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Ray Haynes

Once You Make A Promise…

When I first ran for State Senate in 1990 (the race for the Legislature I lost), I had a meeting with Senator H.L. Richardson, the man who was the conservative movement in California for many decades. In that meeting he gave me the look that only he could give and said “When you make a promise to the voters in an election, it is a covenant. You vote the way you promised until the next election, even if you come to believe the promise was wrong when you made it. You then explain to the voters in the next election why you think that promise was wrong, and that you changed your mind. If they re-elect you, then, and only then, can you vote in the manner that you believe is correct based upon your changed position.” I took that advice to heart. In my time in the Legislature, I voted in accord with my promises as long as my election lasted. If I changed my mind while in office, I still voted the way of my original promise until the next election, and then only after I informed those who voted for me of my changed position.

These days, the debate is over the Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge not to vote for new taxes. I signed it the first year Grover Norquist came out with it, and kept that promise throughout my time in the Legislature. I saw days of recession (like now) and days of plenty (like 4 years ago). In fact, in my very short time in the Legislature, I saw three booms and three busts. These cycles were predictable, and during the boom years, neither the Legislature, nor the Governor (whether he be Democrat or Republican), could resist spending all the money that came in, leading to massive deficits each time the economy faltered just a little. Sometimes I felt like Isaiah, warning of impending doom, and calling for wisdom. Other times, I felt like the class nerd, saying (when the bust occurred) “I told you so” over and over again. Some listened, some said I didn’t know what I was talking about, others just ignored me. However, each time the bust came, those who ignored the warnings in the boom times were the first to wail about how bad things were, and that the deficits were not their fault. They call for new taxes every time, when general fund spending was $40 billion in 1993, when general fund spending was $80 billion in 2001, and when general fund spending was $110 billion in 2007. Note the rise in general fund spending each time. Deficits, however, were never a result of the lack of revenue, they were always the result of spendthrift political leadership.

Which is why the Norquist pledge is so critical, whether in the states or in Congress. Politicians get lots of kudos and benefits when they say yes to the thousands of people who line up to feed at the public trough. They brag about the money they bring home to the district, and have big press conferences with big checks and pictures with people as they hand out the checks to show their district the great thing they are doing for the folks back home. They get little except silent appreciation when they say NO to big spending and higher taxes. Making a promise during an election not to raise taxes is the only restraint on a runaway government, and, though it is not much of a restraint, it is absolutely important.

Don’t make the promise if you can’t keep it. And pay whatever public relations price is necessary to keep it. If Republicans want to win elections, they will win them because, on this one issue, one in which the voters know that the Democrats will always take sides against them, the voters will elect Republicans IF they think they are trustworthy to protect their pocketbooks. Up to this point, just enough Republicans have broken their promise to cause the entire party to lose the faith of the every day voter. We lose elections because some very big name Republicans have raised taxes when people thought they wouldn’t. If we raise taxes now, or vote to raise taxes, we will lose all credibility with the voters who voted for us because we promised them we would protect them. That will make things worse for Republicans politically than they already are, as hard as that is to imagine.