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No to Norquist

Jan 9, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

Enzi, others show courage

An undermentioned positive development from the 2012 election featured Wyoming U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, among others. Our state's senior senator was among those who helped weaken the odd power exerted on the Republican Party by a person who doesn't deserve it.

That man is Grover Norquist, who has built a career for himself by persuading political candidates to sign a no-tax pledge and then holding their feet to the fire if they dare to stray from it. Better yet for Norquist, he's also the one who gets to define what constitutes a violation of the pledge.

Norquist was a relatively obscure Washington lobbyist and speechwriter before coming up with the idea of the no-tax pledge, and it turned into a gold mine for him during the Clinton administration. Often he was able to get first-time candidates to sign it, along with those who faced tough primary challenges or who needed ammunition against a longtime senator or representative who had a voting record to defend.

Norquist rode high during the off-year congressional elections during the Bush administration and ever higher during the Obama-McCain race in 2008. The rise of the tea party movement was especially good for him.

Invariably, if a member of Congress who had signed his oath had been found to have cast a vote to raise taxes, even if it was just in a committee or a procedural agreement on the House or Senate floor, Norquist would find a TV camera, condemn the official and say, "Sen. Whatshisname or Rep. So-and-So didn't make the anti tax pledge to me, he made it to the people of his state (or district). If he wants to go back on his word, he can explain it to his constituents."

For years, Norquist has had an almost hypnotic effect on his pledge-signers, who feared offending the guy no matter the circumstances.

It has been an enormously successful operation for Norquist, and he has become wealthy from it.

Enter the "fiscal cliff." With debt mounting and with both political parties sharing blame for it and the responsibility for fixing it, a few politicians decided to find some courage. Some of them began to say that there are more important issues confronting the country than a piece of paper they signed years before, especially after seeing how Norquist wielded it as a weapon against them.

One of the "rebels" is Enzi. After President Obama's re-election, he joined about a dozen others in saying the Norquist pledge would not determine their votes.

"Grover Norquist doesn't live in Wyoming, and Sen. Enzi's primary concern is what is best for his constituents," said the senator's spokesman, Dan Head. "He will not give away his vote to someone else's stretched interpretation."

Others have said the overriding pledge is the oath of office they swore upon taking office. That says it all.

To his credit, Sen. John Barrasso never signed Norquist's pledge. Fewer new candidates and elected officials are bothering. They are content to stand before the citizens of their states for approval, not Grover Norquist.

Enzi has been elected three times to the Senate by the voters of Wyoming. If Grover Norquist or anyone else wants to try to undermine Enzi's position in our state, they are welcome to try. Sen. Enzi is no grandstander. He works for a living, and he has proved himself anything but a big spender and big taxer. His record in office, not a signature on a lobbyist's notebook, proves it.

Grover Norquist will be back. He's a Harvard-educated guy who has made the most from a clever idea. But loyalty oaths like this smack of McCarthyism. Norquist, and the nation, can find better things to do. Hats off to Enzi and the others who are leading the way.

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