Gut-check time for "Gumby" Republicans

Many of the Republican state Assembly's top candidates with realistic chances of picking up seats in November have thus far refused to sign the same Taxpayer Protection Pledge that fellow Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons has already signed. Despite the economic abyss Nevada taxpayers find themselves in today, these candidates want to "keep their options" open as far as tax hikes are concerned.


Which begs the question: If they won't take a firm stand against tax hikes, on what other important issues will they go wherever the wind blows them?


There is a serious philosophical war raging in Nevada politics today. The revenue shortfalls mean you either support significant budget cuts or significant tax hikes. There is no middle ground. And this is no time for Republican legislative candidates to "go wobbly" on the tax issue. They're either with their Republican governor and fiscal conservatives or they're not. They'll either put their John Hancocks on the Tax Pledge or they'll run as political Gumbys.


And if you don't think the threat of Republicans voting for higher taxes next year isn't real, consider that no less than 14 GOP legislators voted for the largest tax increase in Nevada's history back in 2003. And among the so-called "Mean 15" that year " a term referring to the 15 Assembly Republicans who voted against that tax hike " even most of them were perfectly OK with jacking up taxes big time, just by an amount less than $833 million.


Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea spoke for most of the Republicans in the Assembly that year when he was quoted in the Las Vegas Sun as saying, "I think that, realistically, I do see the need for some new taxes." Then-Assemblyman Ron Knecht seconded that emotion. "I'm good for 511 (million)," he said at the time, happily willing to spend other people's money. Meanwhile, some were actually OK up to the eye-popping level of $704 million. "If the number came down from $870 million to $704 million, (Assemblyman Tom) Grady would probably be in the yes column," the Sun reported.


And some wonder why fiscal conservatives want promises in writing by Republican candidates that they won't raise taxes " preferably in blood?


If taxpayers can't see any difference between Democrats and Republicans on the all-important issue of tax hikes, is it any wonder why Assembly Republicans are still hopelessly mired in the minority by a lopsided 27-15 margin? Is it any wonder why more and more Republican voters are leaving the party? Is it any wonder why Democrats have jumped to a statewide voter registration advantage of more than 50,000 today after being almost dead-even just two short years ago?


This is gut-check time for Republicans. Legislative candidates who say they want to be "flexible" in this war are the political equivalents of the Swiss. Or worse, the French. Don't take a position. Don't choose sides. Just stay neutral. Wait until it's clear who is going to win. And then join them.


Which is a shame. Because thanks to the Gibbons Tax Restraint law, if all 15 Assembly Republicans would band together and sign the Pledge, no tax hike could even reach the governor's desk. Which means the Legislature would actually have to shrink the government. Not just limit its growth. Shrink it. Assembly Republicans have the power to not be irrelevant in this budget war, even in the minority. They're just afraid to use it.


Among the GOP's top Assembly challenger candidates this year, the following have yet to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge: Cheryl Lau, John Gwaltney, John Hambrick, Melissa Woodbury, Sean Fellows and Donna Toussaint. Republican Assembly incumbents who have yet to take a firm stand against tax hikes: Minority Leader Heidi Gansert, Pete Goicoechea, Tom Grady, Joe Hardy, Francis Allen and Lynn Stewart.


There's an old saying in politics that runs as true today as ever: If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. It's high time for these Republicans to take a stand against higher taxes.


- Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com. You can e-mail him at chuck@chuckmuth.com.

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