An exterior of the state capitol
The state of political dysfunction in Sacramento is such that when a Republican legislator announced a change of heart this week about a no-new-taxes pledge she signed two years ago, it created a stir at the State Capitol.
How dare a GOP lawmaker reject what's become party doctrine? In Sacramento, every Republican lawmaker either signs the pledge, written by Washington D.C. activist Grover Norquist, or they risk being ostracized and marginalized by the party. It's a given.
But Modesto Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, in a newspaper opinion piece, said she now regrets going along with GOP expectations when she signed Norquist's pledge while running in 2010.
"Signing a pledge that is subject to arbitrary interpretations serves no purpose," Olsen wrote in the Sacramento Bee. "To grow the Republican Party, we have to get away from relying solely on 'No' messages."
Olsen goes further, saying of Norquist's tactics, "I will not allow myself or my constituents to be bullied by outsiders."
This rare bit of independent thinking is actually good for Sacramento and the gridlock that characterizes the Capitol. And exactly because of that, Olsen is setting herself up for a political pounding from the right.
Never mind that Olsen says she remains committed to low taxes, fiscal responsibility, and a stricter cap on state spending. By repudiating the strong-arm tactics of Norquist and his group, Americans for Tax Reform, Olsen's move represents dangerous thinking to Republican activists presiding over a party that continues to shrink in size and significance.
Three years ago, six Republican legislators had the impudence to vote for a $12.5 billion package that temporarily raised the car, sales, and income tax to help address a massive $42 billion deficit. They did it because they were convinced it was necessary medicine to head off economic disaster. And they got whacked for it.
The retribution was swift and fierce. There were immediate threats of reprisal, including recall. Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill was deposed overnight. All six found themselves with their political heads on a stick.
Olsen, one of the brightest new members of the legislature, knows all this. But she chose to take the unorthodox approach anyway, believing that her party can only reverse its decline and irrelevance by taking a more pragmatic approach to governing.
This sudden outbreak of common sense is good news. It probably won't last.