A pedestrian is shown walking out of the State Capitol building in Sacramento.… (Los Angeles Times )
After years in which California Republican lawmakers took their marching orders from out-of-state anti-tax groups, some GOP candidates are now refusing to sign no-tax pledges. It's a welcome development. The candidates should be applauded for their independence.
The difference between today and two years ago is stark, as Times staff writers Michael J. Mishak and Anthony York reported Saturday. Back then, candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the Assembly and state Senate weren't serious contenders unless they signed the so-called taxpayer protection pledge, which was enforced by Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. When push came to shove, a lawmaker's pledge to the group often counted for more than any promise to voters.
Change is in the California air. It may be because some Republicans have noticed that voters are rejecting their single-issue message, that their party is shrinking and they are perilously close to losing the few seats they need in each house to block a tax increase anyway. It could be that candidates see the world differently after redistricting reform, which GOP leaders thought would favor them but which instead makes them even more endangered. It might be that the new top-two primary system compels them to appeal to more independents or even Democrats rather than simply aiming messages at the most hard-line anti-tax voters.
But let's also consider the possibility that there are more candidates out there ready and willing to stand on their own principles, without pledges or direction from anyone but their constituents and their consciences. This new breed (or perhaps a more appropriate term is old school) of GOP candidate is not pro-tax, and Democrats in Sacramento would be foolish to expect them to march into town and immediately start voting in favor of tax hikes.
What these candidates appear to be saying is that they want to maintain their independence. And candidates who show more independence may find, if they are elected, that they have more clout at the budget bargaining table because they have the ability to make a deal with Democrats — but also that they have enough backbone to stand up to would-be kingmakers who try to dominate their party. People with that kind of strength aren't going to be giving anything away for free in negotiations.
For too long, Republican lawmakers in California have had no power at their disposal except to say "no." They have repeatedly vetoed Democratic budget proposals without offering realistic alternatives, and too often they have sat on the state budget process as it dragged past deadline, through the summer and into the fall. Voters responded by eliminating the two-thirds vote requirement for the Legislature to adopt a budget, making Republicans nearly irrelevant. Some GOP candidates may now have found their way back into the fight.