week, Gov. Warner backtracked on a campaign pledge
not to raise taxes. Politicians, it seems, have lost
all respect for the voters.
his emphatic and often-repeated campaign pledge that
he would never raise taxes, Gov. Mark R. Warner
announced this past week that he would do just that.
Warner openly declared his support for a higher tax
take as he outlined his intention to revamp
Virginia’s tax code. He wants more revenue,
particularly for public education.
flip-flop was dramatically illustrated by two
headlines. The first appeared in a newspaper in
October, 2001, as the gubernatorial campaign neared
an end. It read: “Warner: ‘I will not raise
taxes.’” The second, appearing in the same
newspaper just days ago, blared: “Warner will push
to raise some taxes.”
rationalized his support for the regional sales tax
increases on the November, 2002, ballot by noting
that the voters themselves had to approve the tax
increase. He can’t use that excuse now.
former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles proposed a statewide
sales tax increase in 1986, a reporter reminded him
of his campaign promise not to raise taxes. Baliles
responded, “I only said it once.” Warner can’t
use that excuse either. He made his no-tax pledge in
a 2001 television spot that ran for weeks all across
Virginia. In the ad, Warner said: “Let me set the
record straight. I will not raise taxes.”
there any wonder that the level of voter mistrust of
politicians now exceeds the extraordinary level it
reached in the early 1990s? A candidate’s
“solemn promise” made in the course of a
campaign is now received with cynicism and
occasional scorn by the voters.
shocking is Warner’s recent remark that some
legislators have privately committed to him that
they will support a tax increase, but won’t
publicly admit to that position during the 2003
campaigns. If true, this indicates a widespread
contempt for the voters on the part of Virginia’s
taxes are to be increased, the voters have an
absolute right to participate in that decision.
Their participation is essentially limited to their
role in the election of members of the General
Assembly. To make voter participation meaningful,
candidates must honestly and publicly state their
position for or against a tax increase.
more than two centuries, this country has generally
experienced changes of power and enactment of
controversial laws without violent reactions and
bloody conflict. The reason is simple:
Americans have been willing by and large to accept
leaders and laws, even when they disagreed with
them, because Americans have shared a belief that
the electoral process is fair. If the people ever
lose faith in the fundamental fairness of that
process, they will no longer peacefully or willingly
accept its outcomes.
should demand that candidates for election this year
to the General Assembly state their position on
taxes. Beyond that, voters must be prepared to
punish any politician who reneges on a campaign
2003 elections shouldn’t be a game of
hide-and-seek, in which politicians actively mislead
the voters about their true intentions. Such a
corrosive practice threatens to destroy the
underpinnings of our republican system.
may find this assessment to be overblown and
alarmist. Are they willing to watch the involvement
of citizens in the political process continue to
decline, to accept the mounting sense of
disenfranchisement among young voters, or to let the
electoral process become a meaningless charade?
Let’s hope not.
teacher, every civic leader, every political
commentator — indeed, every citizen — should be
heard shouting: “Enough is enough. We
won’t take it anymore.”
-- March 3, 2003