Last week, six Republican legislators joined with all of the Democrats in the State Capitol to vote for the single largest state-level tax increase in the history of our nation. I could spend a few paragraphs outlining for you why, on a policy level, this is exactly the opposite of what Californians need right now from their state government. But I wanted to spend a little more time on the political ramifications of that decision, at least as it impacted the delegates at the California Republican Party’s Organizational Convention which, ironically, took place last weekend, in the wake of the adoption of what I now call the “Big 5/Big Taxes/Open Primary” budget deal.
With the tax vote so fresh that they had not yet even been signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger, around 1,500 State GOP delegates descended on the Capitol Hyatt, wondering why their party’s legislative leaders had just done a 360 on their steadfast position that a budget solution for California could not, and would not include higher taxes.
Some delegates with whom I interacted were upset, and still others were confused – I would have to say that most were just disappointed and had a feeling of being let down. After all, up until the day of the announced “deal” – the rhetoric coming from the Senate and Assembly Republican Caucuses was 100 percent contrary to what the leaders ended up supporting.
I have no doubt that those who voted for this tax increase will make an articulate case for why there simply was no choice, and outline all of the great policy achievements that were attained “in return” for smacking every family in California with around $1,500 in taxes the next couple of years. The reality is that the Big Five/Big Taxes/Open Primary budget that represents what GOP negotiators would call “the best we could get” clearly wasn’t good enough. Since when should our party settle on a plan that can’t garner the support of even 10 percent of our elected Republican legislators, and includes massive, punitive taxation of Californians in response to Democrat-driven largesse?
Some have said that there were other GOP legislators ready to “cut a deal” that would have been worse than the Big 5/Big Taxes/Open Primary plan. I would submit that a unified Republican Party could have dealt a swift, crushing blow to renegades who would do that. Needless to say it is impossible for the party to truly shield itself from the political fallout of this plan when it was voted for by the Republican leaders.
What I found to be the most revolting and unfortunate part of this budget debacle was the political “blackmail” of Senator Abel Maldonado in insisting that his vote could be had in return for the placement of an open primary measure on the ballot – and the seeming “transactional disregard” that many Republicans had with acceding to his demand, and placing a measure on the ballot that, if passed, will ultimately ensure that there is a supermajority in the Legislature to increase taxes in perpetuity. One almost got the feeling that no demand would have been too great for Republicans in the drive to “get the deal done.”
So the upshot is that California Republican Party took modest action this past weekend in an attempt to distance the party from the abhorrent tax vote of six Republican legislators who all campaigned, as Republican nominees, against higher taxes. If the party itself does not reject the notion that this plan, with its massive tax increases, is wrong for California – then we may as well fold our cards and forfeit the game. Though largely symbolic (the strangled wording of the resolution that did pass would quickly lead any savvy politico to that conclusion), taking a principled stand was important for the Grand Old Party.
On a positive note, this issue of Republicans voting for taxes was not, in fact, the “main event” of the California Republican Party Convention. Delegates heard great speeches from Republicans running for Governor, Lt. Governor, and the U.S. Senate in 2010, participated in many workshops and seminars sharing experiences and learning practical skills to apply towards winning elections, and elected a great group of officers to lead our party into the next election cycle. As one of the re-elected party officers, I am very excited for the future, and believe that the Republican vision for the future, centered on the ideas of freedom, individual freedom and individual responsibility – is the future of our state and nation.