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Which party is full of extremists?

If the Republican Party is overrun with extremist wackjobs, as the Democratic Party asserts in every mailer, email blast, fundraising solicitation and campaign stunt from Washoe County to Washington, then why are GOP lawmakers lining up behind Gov. Brian Sandoval’s plan to extend expiring tax increases through 2015?

After Sandoval rounded up the required Republican votes to renew those same tax rates in 2011? After GOP Sen. Bill Raggio saw to their creation in 2009 and helped override Gov. Jim Gibbons’ veto? And after Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn and Raggio championed the creation of all-new and higher levies in 2003?

A party that includes different perspectives and tolerates differing votes on its defining issues is not extreme. It is the definition of moderate. On the other hand, a party that crushes internal opposition to policy goals and forbids even protest votes against them is not moderate. It is the definition of extreme.

Over the past decade, about two dozen Republican votes have been cast for tax increases in Nevada, and two Republican governors have signed them into law. Over the same period, not a single Democrat has voted against a tax increase.

So who are the fringe lunatics?

Regardless, Democrats continue to hammer away at Republicans at every level of office as Tea Party maniacs. Their clear strategy for 2012: Scare the Democratic base and independents into thinking that everyone under the GOP banner kneels at the altar of Sharron Angle and Sarah Palin and wants us herded en masse into government prayer camps, where schoolteachers will be tarred and feathered. The primary purpose of the Democratic campaign of distraction: to sidestep annoying questions about their own record and avoid on-the-record disclosure of their own agenda.

Democrats here have been hollering for years that the disappearance of a moderate Republican Party is destroying the state. But if Democrats were as moderate as Republicans, we’d see a Democratic governor proposing tax cuts and a few Democratic lawmakers challenging party leaders by opposing tax hikes.

Last year, when Sandoval extended the higher rates on sales, payroll, motor vehicle and business license taxes to balance the state’s spending plan, freshman Sen. Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, voted against the budget. His punishment for crossing the very popular governor, the undisputed leader of his party? Roberson was put in charge of recruiting Senate candidates for 2012 and raising money for the GOP caucus. He was first in line to be the Senate Republican leader in 2013 — and that was before he announced he would support Sandoval’s budget plan for the coming biennium.

Now, imagine if Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, had voted against the 2011 tax increases and crossed Majority Leader Steven Horsford. Would Denis still be Horsford’s designated successor? Far from it, Democrats would be lining up a candidate to challenge Denis and force him out of office.

Instead of lauding the GOP’s decision to support a budget that doesn’t seek spending cuts, Denis complained on “Nevada NewsMakers” last week that Republicans were making a political calculation, not adopting a genuinely moderate position.

Darn those Republicans for raising taxes again — they’re still tea baggers!

Nevada Democrats — especially those running at the legislative level — need a new message. The GOP has claimed the middle — the place it has always been.

Democrats can’t run to the right of the GOP, as Treasurer Kate Marshall tried in her failed 2nd Congressional District special election campaign last year. No one’s buying that. They can’t rip Republicans who campaigned against tax increases and voted for them, or have said they will vote for them, because Democrats are guilty of breaking the same promises. Dozens of Democratic lawmakers said during the 2008 campaign that they would oppose tax increases, then every single of one of them voted for tax hikes in 2009.

No, Democrats have one place to go: to the left — where they have always been. To offer voters an alternative, they’ll have to complain that Republicans, as usual, aren’t spending enough. They’ll have to say the only way to turn around a state with a nation-leading 12.7 percent unemployment rate is to not only make the temporary tax increases permanent, but to add another batch of all-new taxes on top of them.

Good luck with that.

Fiscally conservative voters are perfectly justified in feeling frustrated with Sandoval and other Republicans who promised to let the 2009 tax increases expire, then didn’t. But principle alone won’t move the party’s policy goals forward. Democrats are guaranteed control of the Assembly for at least another decade. Even though our public schools have glaring inefficiencies and desperately need more competition, education cuts don’t play well to the electorate. Medicaid obligations are about to go through the roof. Another biennium of flat spending is a reasonable response.

Republicans leveraged limited pension and education reforms in the past two sessions by tying them to the votes for tax increases. Now that the GOP has showed its cards on the budget, it has one path to any policy compromises: winning the majority in the Senate, which the Democrats currently control 11-10. That would restore some balance to Carson City.

Since when is balance extreme?

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is a Review-Journal editorial writer.

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