Once upon a time in a political era seemingly so far away, politicos understood “The Pledge.” William Loeb, publisher of the Manchester Union Leader, required candidates in New Hampshire, Republican and Democrat, to take The Pledge. It was especially prominent in the Republican primary for President. Those who refused to take The Pledge earned the acerbic wrath of Loeb.
The Pledge was to not raise broad based taxes, specifically income and sales tax. New Hampshire still lacks both.
The Pledge seems relatively easy for Republicans, but Senator Dole flubbed twice in taping it during the 1988 Primary. He never took The Pledge.
The Pledge spread from New Hampshire. It is often asked of Republican candidates for state and local office throughout the country. Republicans sign with alacrity.
However, The Pledge is not self-supporting. Republicans sometime stray from it once in office. That candidates do not always keep their promises upon election is hardy a shocking proposition, but it is disappointing. The politicians are gambling that voters have a short memory.
President George H. W. Bush lost reelection the day he breached his “No New Taxes” Pledge. A sizable percent of Republicans voted in protest for H. Ross Perot, throwing the November election to Governor William Clinton. Bush’s promise had passed the point of being a mere promise; it had become a covenant with the voters.
A test of voter outrage is currently underway in California. The California Legislature enacted substantial, and highly unpopular, tax increases in February. Six Republicans, three in the Senate and three in the Assembly, voted for the increases, providing the required 2/3 vote for tax increases.
The voters repudiated the taxes in May. One of the six, Assemblyman Anthony Adams, is the subject of a recall campaign. Adams had taken the “No New Taxes” pledge, then betrayed his constituents. If the recall qualifies for the ballot, he will probably be unceremoniously tossed out of office.
An opposite version of the pledge is circulating among Democrats in Sacramento. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is asking Democrats to sign a pledge to support $44 billion in new or increased taxes on the wealthy, oil companies, tobacco and other industries, products and people.
No incumbent has signed this pledge to date. They understand that a hostile public voted down their 5 tax increases and diversions by a roughly 2-1 vote. Incumbents seeking other elective positions faced a hard fate at the polls.
The natural instinct of Democrats is to raise taxes. The first rule of politics for incumbents is to get reelection. That trumps an in your face “I will raise taxes” pledge.