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Grover Norquist looms over Minnesota’s budget impasse

Grover Norquist is a pivotal figure in focusing the modern Republican Party on opposition to any tax increase, now and forever.
REUTERS/Larry Downing
Grover Norquist is a pivotal figure in focusing the modern Republican Party on opposition to any tax increase, now and forever.

Yesterday’s post about the uncompromising nature of the Minnesota Republicans’ commitment to their no-new-taxes position sparked a lot of questions about the role of Grover Norquist and the tax pledge that his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, plays, and some specific questions about which Minnesota Republicans have signed Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

The short answer is that 12 of Minnesota’s 37 Republican state senators have signed the pledge and 25 of the 72 Repub state representatives have signed. The signatories include three of the four top leaders of the Repub caucuses. Speaker Kurt Zellers and House Majority Leader Matt Dean have signed. Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel has signed but Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch has not.

This link to Norquist’s outfit, Americans for Tax Reform, will get you the complete list of the state legislator signatories, sorted by state, if you want to check exactly which Minnesotans have signed.

Norquist, who may not be as famous as he should be, is a pivotal figure in focusing the modern Republican Party on opposition to any tax increase, now and forever. The pledge requires legislators to oppose not only any increase in tax rates, but also to oppose the closing of tax loopholes unless the revenue raised by closing the loophole would be completely offset by a decrease in rates somewhere else in the tax structure.

This element of the pledge, by the way, seems to be on the table in Washington, and not getting the attention it deserves. President Barack Obama has tried to put Repubs on the defensive by proposing to eliminate things like tax breaks for the owners of corporate jets. At first Repubs just said no, but if you listen carefully, the position has changed so that Repubs don’t have to defend obscene loopholes but can still keep the pledge. As House Republican leader Eric Cantor said this week: “If the president wants to talk loopholes, we’ll be glad to talk loopholes [but] we’re not for any proposal that increases taxes, and any type of discussion should be coupled with offsetting tax cuts somewhere else.”

Norquist has said: “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”  

He is a powerful kingmaker in Republican politics and is not shy about attacking anyone who wobbles after signing the pledge. When Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., suggested that the oath he took to the Constitution might outweigh his pledge to the anti-taxers, Norquist replied: “Coburn said on national TV today that he lied his way into office and will vote to raise taxes if he damn well feels like it, never mind what he promised the citizens of Oklahoma.”

The Strib’s Washington guy, Kevin Diaz, had little trouble getting Norquist to express his feelings about the tax component of the Minnesota situation. Norquist called Gov. Mark Dayton a “fanatic,” and described Dayton’s call for a tax on millionaires “his hate and envy tax increase.”

I was surprised only one-third of the Repub legislators have signed the pledge, but I gather Norquist puts top priority on federal office-seekers. For example, 235 out of 242 Repub members of the U.S. House, including all four Minnesota Repub congressmen, have signed the pledge, according to the list maintained by Americans for Tax Reform.

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Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/08/2011 - 10:35 am.

    A question for my Republican friends here in Minnesota. Did you realize that you were voting Grover Norquist into office when you voted for your own legislators?

    Did you realize that, no matter what you wanted or needed, no matter what your fellow citizens in the State of Minnesota wanted or needed, Grover Norquist’s dysfonic desires would be all that mattered to those you elected?

    Did you realize that you elected people who were not going to serve your own interests, but rather, had ALREADY pledged only and always to serve the interests of Mr. Norquist?

    Did you realize that YOU ARE NOT REPRESENTED in the legislature of the state of Minnesota, but that Mr. Norquist is represented in your place?

    If you don’t believe Mr. Norquist cares about you and your fellow Minnesotans, if you don’t believe he is capable of, nor interested in representing your interests, if you don’t want your legislators to ignore you and the needs of your home district in order to keep Mr. Norquist, the ONLY person they care about, happy,…

    Maybe you’ll want to be sure to vote for someone who has REFUSED to sign away their concern for you and their representation of you by signing a pledge demanded of them by a consummate “inside the beltway,” Washington DC think tank insider.

  2. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 07/08/2011 - 11:07 am.

    Norquist said on the Colbert Show that he would not be in favor of tax increases even if it would save his grandmother from being attacked by fire ants. Maybe he was kidding.

  3. Submitted by Debra Hogenson on 07/08/2011 - 11:10 am.

    A very interesting Norquist quote: “We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals — and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship.” – Well, he and his ilk have succeeded in Minnesota. Make no mistake, the budget discussion impasses at the federal and state level are the result of a deliberate strategy by the GOP.

  4. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 07/08/2011 - 11:30 am.

    The Norquist quote about drowning government in a bathtub is of indeterminate provenance, but government-icide clearly is his intent. Unfortunately, as I wrote after the 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, governments can’t drown. People drown. And speaking of Tim Pawlenty, TPAW quietly renewed his No New Taxes pledge to Norquist shortly after the bridge collapse.
    To my mind, that is still shocking and disgraceful.

  5. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 07/08/2011 - 11:44 am.

    A recent Washington Post piece by Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick described his serving on a panel with Mr. Norquist at their Harvard College reunion. After reminiscing about the good old days at Dunster House, they discussed politics. Norquist said that his goal was to have the country governed permanently according to his tiny government, low taxes principles. But, but…Mr. Patrick spluttered….surely you admit that a Democrat will be elected President occasionally. Yes, Mr. Norquist calmly replied, but we’ll keep him from governing as a Democrat.

    Prophetic words, those….and perhaps Norquist’s most troubling achievement. Not only is he keeping his own pledge-signers in line, but he has moved the whole frame so far to the right that anything to the left of his position is labeled “socialism” or something equally scary.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/08/2011 - 11:47 am.

    Right on
    (and I DO mean ‘right’;
    in all senses of the word).

  7. Submitted by Jim Lavoie on 07/08/2011 - 12:40 pm.

    I consider anyone taking a pledge to anyone but the people of Minnesota (or the USA at the national level) and to the constitution to be fatally conflicted in their positions. They should resign, and anyone taking such a pledge should be ineligible to serve. It is counterproductive to effective government. A person cannot serve two masters.

  8. Submitted by Addie Moe on 07/08/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    We the people must take back our lives and our government from the likes of Grover Norquist. None of us cast a vote for this man. He does not represent the average citizen in any way, shape or form. Perhaps he represents the interests of big corporations, but surely he does not represent us. Enough is enough!

  9. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 07/08/2011 - 01:11 pm.

    Eric Paulsen, Michele Bachmann, and good old Grover joined at the hip…What a great combination!

  10. Submitted by John Ferman on 07/08/2011 - 01:17 pm.

    Two remarks. There is another ultra-conservative operator that is moving well under the public radar. Does anyone know what Karl Rove is up to – one of his remarks was to make the United States a One Party Country – Republican.
    My other remark is has anyone crafted a story of what life would be like with a tiny Norquistian government. That might be fodder for a good book and movie later.

  11. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/08/2011 - 01:35 pm.

    My question to Mr. Norquist – and to Mrs. Bachmann, Mr. Emmer, Mr. Zellers, Mr. Dean, Mr. Michel and others of their persuasion is this:

    To What End?

    “Drowning government in a bathtub,” whether that government be national, state, or local, is merely a tactic. What’s the goal?

    When government is small enough to drown in a bathtub, what (or whose) purpose is served? Who benefits from “small government” of that scale when it’s instituted? What is the point of the exercise? “Small” may or may not be better, more efficient, more responsive, more responsible, so why is there such a fixation on strangling the revenue stream upon which government, regardless of its size, depends?

    In essence, I’m in agreement with all of the first 7 commenters, but especially with #7 and #1.

    Grover Norquist may be kind to small children and pets, he may be a first-class intellect, and a bon vivant over whom women swoon. But even if he is all those things and more, he has not been elected to national office. He has not sworn an oath to serve the people of the United States and their interests, nor does he appear to be doing so. “Americans for Tax Reform,” like many a dishonest organization in today’s media world, isn’t interested in tax reform. The word “reform” implies some measure of fairness and probity, both of which are conspicuously lacking from Norquist statements and positions.That elected representatives of both parties, at both national and state levels, would actually sign a pledge of his making certainly points up his current influence as a king-maker, but it also puts on display their refusal or inability to actually carry out their constitutional duties, which require them to serve – as Greg pointed out – the public that elected them, not an influential but childish demagogue.

  12. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/08/2011 - 01:38 pm.

    Politicians loyalty should be to the people they represent and the constitution. Period.

    Since when has it been okay to sign loyalty oaths to unelected, unaccountable groups and individuals?

    I don’t care if you are liberal or conservative, your loyalty is to us and the law. These oaths are disgusting.

  13. Submitted by Joel Gingery on 07/08/2011 - 01:52 pm.

    According to George Lakoff – “The Political Mind” – “Cognitive policy is a framing campaign that precedes specific material policies. It introduces the deep frames, the moral frames that come first. All material policies are based, explicitly or implicitly, on prior morally-based frames. The first justification of any policy, often unconscious and implicit, is its moral correctness…It operates in a circle: framing precedes policy. And because of this, a material policy can create a cognitive policy – a way of framing reality to reveal a deep truth and change brains to recognize the truth.” (p.170)

    “No new taxes” is not a morally based policy. But in order to counter it, opponents must devise a morally based material policy and organize their campaign around it. Van Jones’ “Rebuild the Dream” is such an attempt.

    Unless opponents of “No New Taxes” develop a morally based material policy and relentlessly campaign with it, our political discussion will continue to revolve around taxes instead of a health care system that ensures every American has optimal health, or an education system that enables every American to obtain the education they need to participate in a fair economy, one that produces material benefit for all Americans while allowing actual democratic control, ensuring environmental integrity and minimizing insecurity.

  14. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/08/2011 - 03:23 pm.

    You don’t have to wonder why we have nationwide political gridlock. We have people that don’t even live in the state getting politicians to sign crazy pledges. I guess you can kiss the democratic system, that we used to operate under, dead. It is no wonder the sense of compromise that used to move the state and country forward is severely gridlocked. I hope the voters realize and remember how serious this is to our way of governing. Corruption in politics is running wild all throughout our political system. John Q. Public no longer has a chance in our system. The Supreme Court allowed unlimited political donations to candidates. Don’t think for a minute that these guys don’t want something big in return for their money and then they get to vote in November too, thus giving them two votes in a one-vote system. There are political PAC’s (Lobbyists) with open wallets roaming the hallways of capitals across this country making sure politicians go their way no matter what the citizens want or need. We are in very bad shape right now and guess who got us here? The same politicians that are supposed to be fixing the system now.

  15. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/08/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    @Alec #12:
    I wonder how many of the GOPers have actually taken an oath on the Bible or some other holy book to cut government spending and income.
    If they did, I suspect it was with the left fingers crossed behind their backs.

  16. Submitted by Chad Strunk on 07/08/2011 - 03:45 pm.

    To put it bluntly, Norquist either has a reality problem or is an anarchist. Unless his family is independently wealthy, I doubt very much that he could be where he is today without public services like education, defense, and transportation.

  17. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/08/2011 - 03:58 pm.

    I believe there used to be even more Minnesota Republican senators and reps than there are now, but some have left the legislature to continue the “fight for the right” in other ways.

    Grover Norquist used to call or visit Pawlenty when he sensed, or was told, that our Tim was weakening on an issue and might conceivably okay a new tax. He also at least once wrote a letter to either the entire legislature or to all his signatories urging that they vote No on something (the gas tax increase, I believe).

    His “Leave Us Alone Coalition” is almost as much fun as Americans for Tax Reform. He’s published a book on this group, which exists to fight the “Takings Coalition” — poor people, unions, trial lawyers and any who cannot exist without the help of government.

    I’m delighted to see that he’s beginning to get real public exposure. It helps people know where some of the otherwise inexplicable attitudes held by the Right come from.

  18. Submitted by David Broden on 07/08/2011 - 04:07 pm.

    Simple question to those who in Mn have signed the Nordquist pledge-Which is priority–The state of Mn or your worshiping of Nordquist–yes I used the word worshiping because the lock to him is just that a ideologial lock that has no waiver. Some of those who signed were those I respect–I just redid my good government focus list–it is nearly blank–20 years ago it was full of both sides of the aisle–I am sure that there are thousands across Mn who share my view.Nordquist is not a Mn resident let us make our own deecisions–he an play games in his own state– we did not elect him–nor do we welcome his ideas–move-on.go — a new term

    Dave Broden

  19. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/08/2011 - 08:03 pm.

    I appreciate the information about Norquist. Before this week I was not even aware of him as I am not a politico. I am learning a lot from these posts. As you all seem to be somewhat enlightened, how would you suggest we rid ourselves of this 21st century Svengali? At the risk of suggesting more legislation, is there a way to make these people inaccessible to the party heads if they seek signed pledges that work against the very people that were elected to serve the people and their wishes?

  20. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/08/2011 - 08:37 pm.

    Do you wonder why Minnesota gridlock is happening. Here is a list of the Minnesota legislators who signed Virgil Norquist’s no new taxes pledge so they would not have to compromise and come to an agreement and move our state forward. Instead they chose to sign a pledge of a guy who DOES NOT EVEN LIVE IN OUR STATE. They are however willing to let him dictate policy in our state. Norquist, born with a silver spoon in his mouth is the son of the man who was the CEO of Polaroid. These are the names you need to keep track of for the next election and vote them out. Norquist has over 1,200 legislators signed up across the country. I find this very disturbing that a non-Minnesotan has a firm shackle on our legislators. This is not democracy. Compromise is, dictators are not. Please notice the man negotiating with Dayton Kurt Zellers is on the list.

    12 Senators of 67
    Dave Brown (S-16)
    Roger C. Chamberlain (S-53)
    Paul Gazelka (S-12)
    Chris Gerlach (S-37)
    Dan D. Hall (S-40)
    David Hann (S-42)
    Mike Jungbauer (S-48)
    Warren Limmer (S-32)
    Geoff Michel (S-41)
    Julianne Ortman (S-34)
    Claire Robling (S-35)
    Charles Wiger (S-55)

    25 House members of 134
    Jim Abeler (H-48B)
    Bruce Anderson (H-19A)
    King Banaian (H-15B)
    Mark Buesgens (H-35B)
    Matt Dean (H-52B)
    Bob Dettmer (H-52A)
    Sondra Erickson (H-16A)
    Bob Gunther (H-24A)
    Tom Hackbarth (H-48A)
    Mary Liz Holberg (H-36A)
    Larry Howes (H-4B)
    Mary Kiffmeyer (H-16B)
    Ann Lenczewski (H-40B)
    Carolyn McElfatrick (H-3B)
    Mary Murphy (H-6B)
    Paul Marquart (H-9B)
    Bud Nornes (H-10A)
    Gene Pelowski (H-31A)
    Joyce Peppin (H-32A)
    Linda Runbeck (H-53A)
    Steven Smith (H-33A)
    Chris Swedzinksi (H-21A)
    Bruce Vogel (H-13B)
    Torrey Westrom (H-11A)
    Kurt Zellers (H-32B)

  21. Submitted by Victoria Wilson on 07/08/2011 - 09:38 pm.

    I believe that those who seek smaller government feel there is a natural mechanism for the provision of public goods, and each small community should organize themselves to utilize it for the care of their own members. This system creates the greatest efficiencies as choices and outcomes are experienced first hand, and lead to the careful expenditure of resources.

    What is odd about the Norquist pledge is that it artificially sets a price limit on public goods. If one truly believes in a natural market, why then is there a need for price setting? In the commercial marketplace this is called antitrust and is illegal.

    Norquist does not seem to be interested in identifying the true nature of the production and consumption of public goods. He does seem interested in turning popular rhetoric into political tricks for personal power

  22. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/08/2011 - 10:42 pm.

    The list of Republican State Senators who signed the Norquist pledge is a bit smaller than the list of those who signed an open letter to the Governor in February saying about the same thing. I hadn’t thought about the idea of signing a “pledge” as amounting to the same thing as taking an oath but maybe in a sense it is by being a violation of the oath. By signing such a pledge to not raise taxes while in office, do these legislators violate their oath to uphold the Minnesota Constitution which states that “the power of taxation shall never be suspended, surrendered or contracted away”?

  23. Submitted by Roger Brooks on 07/08/2011 - 10:52 pm.

    Signing “pledges” is what ideologues do. Leaders weigh alternatives, talk to everybody, and find compromises that satisfy majorities.
    Is this so difficult?

  24. Submitted by Wanda Ballentine on 07/09/2011 - 09:05 am.

    So WHO are they??

  25. Submitted by John N. Finn on 07/09/2011 - 10:47 am.

    One Democrat on the pledge list, my representative Gene Pelowski. Other Dems?

  26. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/09/2011 - 07:01 pm.

    John Finn (#25). Unfortunately, the following Democrats on the list seem to have signed the pledge. Maybe Norquist put something in their coffee. Or maybe someone told them their constituents wanted them to sign “or else.”

    Charles Wiger (55)

    Ann Lenczewski (40B)
    Mary Murphy (6B)
    Paul Marquart (9B)
    Gene Pelowski (31A)

    I don’t know how their voting records compare to those of the Rigid Right Anti-Tax Majority. It’s possible they do not honor the pledge, or so I would hope.

  27. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 07/10/2011 - 06:48 am.

    My great-grandfathers that were homesteaders were required to renounce their allegiance to the Czar of Russia and the Elector of Prussia in order to become naturalized U.S. citizens and homestead land. I believe the Bible says a slave cannot serve two masters. So why do legislators and members of Congress think they can take a pledge to Grover Norquist’s ATR and also honor their oath to the Constitution?

  28. Submitted by Ray Lewis on 07/10/2011 - 11:04 am.

    Claire asks: As you all seem to be somewhat enlightened, how would you suggest we rid ourselves of this 21st century Svengali?

    I think it might involve going to Republican caucuses and endorsing conventions and supporting candidates who would support good government, rather than single causes or pledges. However I’m not sure anyone really wants that job it it requires soliciting campaign donations and running against a better funded opposition with pre-packaged media messages and tactics.

    Anybody up for the anti Grover Norquist pledge? “We promise to collaborate and compromise in good faith to benefit the people of this nation.” furguson11 Quote from a comment from the St. Paul newspaper today.

  29. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/10/2011 - 09:45 pm.

    Nordquist will lose his influence if and when his disciples lose elections.
    That’s how we get rid of him.

  30. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/11/2011 - 08:38 am.

    I think Clair highlights the problem rather nicely. While these extreme republicans are the ones actually choking off the economy, and the political system, I still blame the Democrats. The fact is the that the Republican party is littered with under the radar puppet masters from Norquist to Dobbs, and has been for decades. Rather than exposing these sociopaths and fanatics for the toxic effects they’ve had on our political, social, and economic landscape, the Democrats have acquiesced to their demands. Remember, the largest “small government” program in US history was run by Al Gore during the 90s- remember “reinventing government”? It was the largest privatization effort in government history.

    The sad fact is that the reason so few people know about these unelected czars of the Republican party is that Democrats haven’t been telling anyone about them. The question is why?

  31. Submitted by will lynott on 07/11/2011 - 06:47 pm.

    “The sad fact is that the reason so few people know about these unelected czars of the Republican party is that Democrats haven’t been telling anyone about them. The question is why?”

    #30, the answer is that they’re gutless (with the notable exception of our current Governor).
    In a few cases I might be willing to concede that they have given in because someone has to be an adult, but that excuse is getting pretty hoary. To misquote a man I despise, “the only thing conservatives respect is strength and power.” (TP) Democrats are babes in the wood compared to them.

  32. Submitted by Claire Lundgren on 07/11/2011 - 10:43 pm.

    #28 Ray, if you are starting a signup for the Grover Norquist pledge as you framed it, I’m in.

  33. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/12/2011 - 10:17 am.

    #31 , the answer is that they’re gutless (with the notable exception of our current Governor).

    That’s part of it, but I think there may be a deeper problem. See my blog entry on what I call the “Great Stupid”, and the section about the liberal contribution:

    There are three contemporary liberal qualities that I think have contributed to the current crises. It’s a mistake to assume that liberal are gutless, you have to remember decades of labor and civil rights struggles that liberals fought throughout American history, with tremendous courage. I think the character of liberal’s changed in regards to the Democratic party in the late 70s.

    First, trickle down anti-government economic theories were largely adopted as a neo-liberal agenda. Liberal’s seem to have decided during the 70s that all the big battles were won, and that all we had left to do was tweak the system we created. This attitude denied any large problems existed, or that any large scale solutions would be required to address systemic problems. From that point on the only people talking about “revolution” or change on any large scale were the Republicans. Liberals no longer saw a need to think strategically about large scale issues.

    Second, liberal egoism exploded into a variety of fads that further eroded the ability to respond to Republican challenges in any coherent way. When you think about it all that “think local act global” stuff had the effect of rendering elections irrelevant. Liberals withdrew from big issues and solutions into a private world where buying different products replaced organized movements as a mode social or political change.

    Third, unbridled optimism prevented the recognition of any real danger or threat to our institutions. If I had a dollar for every argument I’ve had with liberals over the last couple of decades trying to convince them that we had huge problems I’d be a millionaire. Back in 2007-2008 I had a series of exchanges with a local liberal news guy regarding the recession. For years he simply refused to believe we were in a recession, and then that the recession was bad recession, and then that there was anything the government could do about it. The primary liberal complaint about people trying to sound alarms for three decades now has been our negativity. You could see this play with the Obama presidency. Almost from the beginning progressives tried to warn Democrats on a variety of issues from health care to Iraq and those warnings were largely dismissed as unrealistic negativity.

    Try to tell someone that’s in this “positive” attitude about the danger of Republican ideology and they keep telling you your being too negative and exaggerating… no one is REALLY that crazy. Yeah well guess what…

    As all these character changes played out over the decades amongst other things the Democratic party, populated by the aforementioned liberals lost the capacity to react to Republicans in any kind of organized or coherent fashion.

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