Northern Californians are voting for their Congressional representatives in the primary that takes place next week. Redding and its surroundings are currently represented by Congressman Doug LaMalfa. I personally have many ideological disagreements with Doug LaMalfa, but there is one particular feature of his time in public life that I think ought to disqualify him in the eyes of all of his constituents--whether they are Republicans, Democrats, or un-registered voters.
LaMalfa, you see, has joined many of his colleagues in the national and state Republican Party in signing Grover Norquist’s pledge to “oppose any and all tax increases.” These colleagues include state-level officials Ted Gaines and Brian Dahle.
For many of LaMalfa’s, Gaines’, and Dahle’s Republican constituents who don’t want to pay higher taxes, that might seem at first like a good thing. Their candidates shares their ideology and their desire to pay fewer taxes.
However, if you think closely about what LaMalfa and Co have done, these elected officials’ loyalties now do not correspond to the needs of their constituents. Instead of being elected in the tradition of representative democracy as individuals with strong viewpoints but who are nonetheless ostensibly intelligent individuals able to consider changing circumstances and the needs of constituents and the country, LaMalfa and Co’s pledge-taking, oath-swearing politics make them a kind of automated vote stamper.
Their actions on any vote dealing with the fundamental questions of revenue have nothing to do with a particular issue, nothing to do with changes in the regional, local, or national economy, and are taken with no reference to the needs or desires of constituents.
Their pledge means that LaMalfa, Gaines, and Dahle cannot or will not listen to arguments or engage in good-faith debate. It means that they can’t negotiate, can’t win concessions, and can’t ultimately exercise influence as independent agents on behalf of their constituents.
I believe that even the most right-wing of these representatives’ Republican constituents probably believe that there are certain times when the country might need to increase its resources. In times of war, economic catastrophe, or natural disaster I suspect that even they would acknowledge the need for marshalling resources to defend ourselves, protect the vulnerable, and rebuild.
I suspect that many of those Republican constituents would recognize that in a state with a young population that is growing in size and demographic complexity, not raising taxes doesn’t create a flatline. It makes revenue fall relative to the number and needs of our population.
The North State currently has an active group seeking the construction of a new University of California campus in the region, a worthy cause that would bring educational opportunities and job opportunities to the area. I suspect that the campaign for this campus draws support from people who consider themselves Republicans as well as those who regard themselves as Democrats. Such a campus would require an investment from the state, and likely higher taxes on some people in the state. But those advocates recognize that these commitments would be outweighed by the benefits of a large, cutting edge research campus in our midst.
LaMalfa’s short-sighted and inflexible pledge-politics means that as a state representative he would have been incapable of weighing the costs and benefits of such a venture, and current state representatives like Gaines and Dahle are in the same boat.
From my own left-wing perspective there are plenty of policy views that put me at odds with LaMalfa and Co. But what I find most extraordinary is that voters in the North State have tolerated representatives who abdicate the use of their critical reasoning by signing pledges that commit them to mulishly sitting on the sidelines during fundamental debates about public services, public revenue, and the future of our nation. In the primaries next week, at least some of these representatives can be held accountable, and in November voters have the opportunity to replace them with thinking men and women capable of reacting to the world around them.