Conservatives most definitely will get a 2016 referendum on the package of record tax increases passed this year by the Republican-controlled Nevada Legislature.
An initiative to repeal more than $1 billion in tax increases and extensions, including a new commerce tax on business, is a long shot to qualify for next year‘s ballot — assuming such a petition ever gets underway. But the Republican primary for the 3rd Congressional District will serve the same purpose — albeit in nonbinding fashion.
State Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, pushed the tax package through the Legislature to Gov. Brian Sandoval‘s desk, much to the dismay of the party‘s anti-tax base. So when Roberson announced this month that he‘d run for the 3rd District seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Joe Heck, who‘ll seek elevation to the U.S. Senate next year, fiscal conservatives started lining up to challenge him.
The 3rd District field will get even more crowded Monday when Andy Matthews, president of the Nevada Policy Research Institute, announces he‘s leaving the free-market think tank to take on Roberson. Matthews will join perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian and Dr. Annette Teijeiro in challenging Roberson from the right and creating a new front in the battle for the soul of the GOP.
Neither Matthews, Tarkanian nor Teijeiro has ever won election to office. But where Tarkanian‘s and Teijeiro‘s primary qualification for running for Congress is previously running for Congress (Tarkanian lost a Senate bid in 2010 and a 4th District run in 2012, and Teijeiro was defeated in Nevada‘s 1st District last year), Matthews can point to years of work — and many successes — fighting for lower taxation, individual freedoms, limited government and pro-growth economic policies through NPRI.
"I‘m the only candidate in this race who is running on a record of conservative accomplishments," said Matthews, 36. "I‘ve led fights for lower taxes, given teachers the information they needed to leave their union and sued the government to defend the rights of people. …
"I‘m running to defend free-market ideas and stand up to the tax-and-spenders… We can‘t tax and spend our way to prosperity and job creation."
Roberson will dispute Matthews‘ claim to the conservative high ground. Roberson can take credit for a number of important collective bargaining, pension, education and gun-rights reforms passed this year — although the labor and pension legislation certainly could have been stronger.
But the tax increases Roberson delivered to Sandoval will be the defining issue of next year‘s 3rd District primary — especially because Roberson was first elected to the Senate in 2010 on promises to oppose tax increases. Especially in federal races, Republican voters want representatives who‘ll not only hold the line on taxes, but fight for tax cuts and reduced spending.
Roberson will raise more money than anyone in the 3rd District race, but he‘ll be put in the challenging position of defending state tax and spending increases while opposing expansion of the federal government. Matthews, a Massachusetts native who has been with NPRI for eight years, including the past four as president, doesn’t believe Roberson can credibly do that.
"I don‘t think it‘s believable because he (Roberson) flipped in such a short period of time," Matthews said. "This was not a 30-year evolution."
Matthews, like most Nevada Republicans, wanted Roberson and Sandoval to follow the lead of GOP Govs. Scott Walker, Rick Snyder and John Kasich in reining in government instead of expanding it.
His entry in the 3rd District race runs the risk of splitting the conservative vote to the point of assuring Roberson‘s nomination. To win, Matthews needs all fiscal conservatives behind him in a typical low-turnout primary.
Thanks to this year‘s tax increases, he has a rallying cry.