The man considered by some to be the most powerful person in Washington is in Minnesota today. Grover Norquist is the guest speaker at the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday morning in Vadnais Heights.
Norquist has headed the group Americans for Tax Reform since 1986. The organization asks all candidates for federal and state office to sign a pledge promising they'll never vote to raise taxes. His supporters applaud his goal to cut the size of government in half over the next 25 years as it relates to the entire economy.
Critics say the pledge hamstrings lawmakers and they blame Norquist as much as any elected politician for last year's debt-ceiling standoff and the lowering of the nation's credit rating.
In practice, lawmakers who break that pledge after taking it will be targeted by Norquist's group in the next election. President George W. Bush's former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told Rolling Stone that "Congress was willing to cause severe economic damage to the entire population simply because they were slaves to an idiot's idea of how the world works."
A vast majority of pledge signers are Republicans -- including all four of Minnesota's GOP representatives. In the current Congress, only six republicans in the House and seven in the Senate have not signed the pledge. In total, 279 representatives and senators have signed -- just three are Democrats.
The pledge is also encouraged at the state level. In Minnesota, 37 state lawmakers have signed the pledge That works out to nearly one in every five members of the Legislature. Most are Republicans, but the signers do include DFL state Sen. Chuck Wiger, of Maplewood... and four DFL state representatives: Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington, Mary Murphy of Hermantown, Paul Marquart of Dilworth, and Gene Pelowski of Winona.
I asked him whether the pledge his group encourages candidates to sign forces lawmakers into making budget decisions like the school shift and tobacco bond sale to get around the pledge.
"You're quite right to complain, you should speak to your governor, who has governed poorly and has not helped reform government, and the fact that we couldn't get more spending restraint in Minnesota- even though the people elected a legislature committed to that - is because of the governor's veto and his strength," Norquist said. Like Obama, the governor of Minnesota has been an advocate of higher taxes and higher spending, and it's not good enough to have a Legislature stopping him. You have to have a different governor, a different president to stand with the American people to reduce the cost of government."
Gov. Mark Dayton's press secretary, Katharine Tinucci, issued a statement in response to Norquist's comments.
"If an extremist like Grover Norquist, who wants to 'shrink [government] down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,' is criticizing Governor Dayton, the governor must be doing something right," Tinucci said. "Mr. Norquist is seriously misinformed: Governor Dayton advocates higher taxes only for the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans. That's in sharp contrast to Republican legislators, who eliminated the Homestead Credit and drove up property taxes for most Minnesotans."
Which Minnesotans signed the pledge?
12 of 67 Senators
Dave Brown (S-16)
Roger C. Chamberlain (S-53)
Paul Gazelka (S-12)
Chris Gerlach (S-37) Dan D. Hall (S-40)
David Hann (S-42) Mike Jungbauer (S-48)
Warren Limmer (S-32)
Geoff Michel (S-41)
Julianne Ortman (S-34)
Claire Robling (S-35)
Charles Wiger (S-55) (DFL)
25 of 134 House members
Jim Abeler (H-48B)
Bruce Anderson (H-19A) King Banaian (H-15B)
Mark Buesgens (H-35B) Matt Dean (H-52B)
Bob Dettmer (H-52A)
Sondra Erickson (H-16A)
Bob Gunther (H-24A)
Tom Hackbarth (H-48A)
Mary Liz Holberg (H-36A) Larry Howes (H-4B)
Mary Kiffmeyer (H-16B)
Ann Lenczewski (H-40B) (DFL)
Carolyn McElfatrick (H-3B)
Mary Murphy (H-6B) (DFL)
Paul Marquart (H-9B) (DFL)
Bud Nornes (H-10A)
Gene Pelowski (H-31A) (DFL)
Joyce Peppin (H-32A)
Linda Runbeck (H-53A)
Steven Smith (H-33A)
Chris Swedzinksi (H-21A)
Bruce Vogel (H-13B)
Torrey Westrom (H-11A)
Kurt Zellers (H-32B)