A no-new-taxes message

Tuesday’s primary election provided little drama for legislative Democrats, as the handful of incumbents who faced challenges from within their party destroyed their underfunded rivals.

The victories were so lopsided party leaders probably didn’t notice the warning shots that whistled past their celebrations — and right at their unabashed desire for higher taxes.

Three Republican Assembly members lost their seats Tuesday to challengers who pledged to oppose tax increases at the 2009 Legislature. And the mightiest legislative Republican of them all, nine-term Sen. Bill Raggio of Reno, the majority leader of the upper house, survived a vigorous primary challenge from former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle only after sprinting to the right and vowing to hold the line on taxes next year.

Sen. Raggio made sure the record tax increases of 2003 — which produced record budget surpluses in the years immediately following — sailed through his chamber. Long preoccupied with the exercise of power and the process of politics, Sen. Raggio had to campaign on the conservative ideals of fiscal responsibility and limited taxation. Ms. Angle, who unlike Sen. Raggio has a record of voting against tax increases, came up just short in her long-shot bid, getting 47 percent of the vote to Sen. Raggio’s 53 percent.

One of Sen. Raggio’s allies in the 2003 debacle, 30-year GOP Assemblyman John Marvel of Battle Mountain, lost to Don Gustavson, a former assemblyman who was forced out of office by this decade’s reapportionment. Mr. Marvel, you’ll recall, broke ranks with the Assembly Republicans who for months had blocked the 2003 tax hikes, giving Democrats the one vote they needed to obtain a two-thirds supermajority. Mr. Gustavson’s campaign hammered at Assemblyman Marvel for that betrayal, and voters rewarded him.

In Clark County, newcomer Jon Ozark trounced Henderson Assemblyman Bob Beers (no relation to state Sen. Bob Beers) with 69 percent of the vote. “People like my message of lower taxes and less government, regardless of what my opponent’s name was,” said Mr. Ozark, who vows not to punish the state’s suffering businesses with even higher taxes amid a struggling economy.

Finally, in Assembly District 4, incumbent Francis Allen fell to Richard McArthur in a four-way race, getting only 24 percent of the vote to his 46 percent. Ms. Allen was not an effective legislator during her two terms in office, and certainly she was damaged goods following allegations she refused to pay her wedding florist and her arrest on suspicion of domestic violence against her husband (the charges were later dropped). But Mr. McArthur did not run an attack campaign against Ms. Allen — he ran on a platform of limited government and lower taxes. Ms. Allen, on the other hand, refused to sign a no-new-taxes pledge. That wasn’t what beleaguered voters wanted to see.

Republican voters might well see their federal candidates take a beating come November, but they’re sending their state and local representatives a clear message: Do not support Democratic Party efforts to raise taxes in Nevada.

That Sen. Raggio appears to have received this message is of immeasurable significance. Even if Democrats unseat one or two incumbent Senate Republicans in November and gain majority status in the upper chamber, it won’t mean a whit if Sen. Raggio can keep his caucus in line and deny Democrats the two-thirds majority they need to pass tax increases.

And if Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley can’t gain the one seat her party needs to amass a two-thirds majority in the lower house, she can expect a standoff just like the one Mr. Marvel deflated in 2003 — only this time he won’t be there to bail her out.

So let the general election campaign begin, with legislative Democrats posting signs, airing commercials and sending mailers that advocate the tax “restructuring” that will “stabilize” state revenues — and allow government budgets to grow by double-digit rates while the private sector sheds thousands more jobs.

Let’s see how that works for them.

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