Tax-reform pledge takers becoming a dwindling breed

Jeremy Duda//February 11, 2013

Tax-reform pledge takers becoming a dwindling breed

Jeremy Duda//February 11, 2013

The pledge that for years has been a holy grail of anti-tax conservatism is dwindling in popularity at the Copper Dome.

Only 11 lawmakers, including just one of 17 Republicans in the Senate, have signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Only two of the 14 new Republican lawmakers this session have signed.

That number is down from 21 in the 2011-12 Legislature, when the GOP boasted a supermajority in both chambers. And media reports listed the number of pledge signers at the Legislature as being as high as 32 in the two years before that, when Republican lawmakers’ opposition to raising taxes led to a yearlong battle with Gov. Jan Brewer over her plan to temporarily raise the state’s sales tax rate.

Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, signed the pledge when he first ran for the House in 2006. But ATR asks elected officials to re-sign when they move on to a new office, and Driggs said he decided not to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge — or any out-of-state group’s pledge, for that matter — when he got elected to the Senate in 2010.

“There are a lot of different organizations that ask me to sign pledges. They’re based in Washington, D.C. or Chicago. They’re not my constituents. And my pledge when I run for election is to my constituents. I don’t sign a pledge to an organization,” Driggs said. “Then I’m beholden to an organization and not to my constituents. And I would rather be beholden to my constituents.”

Driggs said he was also turned off of ATR’s pledge because the organization switched its position on a vote while he was in the House.

“Legislators take the pledge with good intentions. They’re conservative. They want low taxes. That’s what they run on. But then you have an outside organization, they think they’re beholden to them or else they’re breaking their word. And their word is important to them. It creates a conflict,” he said.

Many critics of ATR’s pledge say it makes elected officials beholden to an out-of-state group and its leader, Grover Norquist.

But lawmakers who sign the pledge say they’re not beholden to anyone except their constituents. Freshman Rep. Adam Kwasman, R-Oro Valley, said he publicly signed the pledge at his first campaign event when he became a candidate in Legislative District 11 as a sign to his constituents.

“The reason I signed it is that it is because the pledge is, in fact, to my constituents and a great way to signal to them that I believe in lowering taxes and limiting government,” Kwasman said. “For somebody who is a first-time legislator, that is the kind of record I needed to be on to prove to everybody that I was serious about this scenario. I’m looking forward to proving to them through my voting that I’m keeping my promise.”

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, signed the pledge when he ran for the House in 2006, and said he will sign it again when he runs for the Senate next year. He said not every lawmaker who didn’t sign made a conscious decision not to do so, and speculated that many of his colleagues probably just overlooked ATR’s request among the flood of emails they receive on a regular basis. He also noted that both GOP caucuses lost members in November.

Kavanagh, however, acknowledged that the pledge is on a downward trend at the Legislature. He also speculated that some may still be anti-tax, but might not want to lock themselves into such a position without knowing what the future will hold.

“I still don’t believe there’s a need for a tax increase. However with revenues down and after so many cuts, some members, while they might not support a tax increase, might be fearful that if the economy continues to tank that they might be forced into one, but they don’t want to set themselves up for breaking a pledge,” Kavanagh said.

Sen. Judy Burges, R-Sun City West, backed up Kavanagh’s theory that some lawmakers may have simply overlooked the pledge. Burges signed it while she served in the House but “just hasn’t gotten around to it,” since moving to the Senate last year.

“I probably will,” she said.

ATR spokesman Patrick Gleason blamed the dwindling number of pledge signers on campaign consultants with other allegiances.

“Arizona has one of the worst consultant class problems in the country. By that I am referring to the fact that nearly every legislator under the Copper Dome and most candidates on the trail have some consultant telling them what to do,” Gleason said in an email to the Arizona Capitol Times. “In Arizona’s case, many of the consultants, Republicans and Democrats alike, are aligned with spending interests and have made a concerted effort to discourage candidates from signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a commitment to Arizona residents to oppose all efforts to raise their taxes.”

Republican consultant Bert Coleman said there’s some truth to Gleason’s claim that consultants tell their candidates not to sign the pledge. Coleman said he advises all his clients not to sign any pledges.

“Pledges are a gimmick,” Coleman said. “Your actions speak louder than any pledge.”

Coleman also said the litmus tests and purity tests that many conservative groups try to enforce on Republicans only help Democrats, and ATR has been the gold standard of those tests.

“There are many consultants like myself, our focus is electing Republicans, not the right kind of Republicans but Republicans in general,” Coleman said. “The litmus test by many Republican groups has gotten the Republican Party in trouble. Republicans need to focus on beating Democrats, not other Republicans.”