Kristin Olsen Leads the Parade Against Norquist Pledge


Kristin Olsen

Late last October, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen renounced the Grover Norquist no-tax pledge. Since then, a growing group of Republican senators and congressman have done the same.

Though current political realities likely influenced Olsen’s decision, she didn’t wait until after the election to announce her new outlook. Like others who have seen government’s problems up close, she’s realized absolutist theories aren’t serving her constituents.  When she announced her new position, Olsen noted that our founding fathers “were masterfully skilled at critical thinking, problem solving, writing, persuasion, and consensus building.”

Olsen might have added that the founding fathers were also willing to face facts. The anti-tax rhetoric that dominated political dialog for the last three decades has too often featured more denial and wishful thinking than plain truth.

Recent commentary from Warren Buffett, as good a capitalist and critical thinker as they get, pointed out that he invested and made money through periods featuring tax rates as high as 91%. He also said there have been economic booms when taxes were much higher than they are now. His point is that those who claim tax increases kill investment and foster recessions are dead wrong.

Even Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol remarked recently that, “It won’t kill the country if we raise taxes a little bit on millionaires.”

There’s no question the presidential election influenced many politicians and commentators to finally say publicly what they’ve whispered privately for decades, but the new candor is welcome no matter the cause. For years, even extremely conservative local politicians have admitted off the record that Proposition 13 was especially hard on the northern San Joaquin Valley.

Today, as we reflect on Draconian reductions in our police force, school programs and social services, it’s hard to argue that thirty years of anti-tax hysteria have brought us to the Promised Land.

Absolutist positions have rarely satisfied the American people over time. Instead, the nation has found the path forward by trial and error, trying and discarding theories and programs along the way. As Bruce Frohman pointed out in prophetic commentary before the rush away from Norquist began, representatives who make promises to outsiders do a disservice to their constituents.

Kristin Olsen had it right when she wrote, “we need principled pragmatists who will think long and hard about the problems plaguing our state.”

The American people have made it clear they prefer a mix of tax increases and reductions in spending as solutions for the ills of our states and nation. The rush away from blind faith in Grover Norquist is the strongest indication yet that politicians are starting to listen.

Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
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