Republican congressional candidates Elise Stefanik of Willsboro and Matt Doheny of Watertown are sparring over a decades-old pledge for politicians who promise not to raise taxes.
Doheny seems to think lining up with the Americans for Tax Relief “pledge” is the right thing for a Republican to do.
Stefanik says it would be giving in to a Washington-based special interest group.
As the campaign for the GOP nomination in the North Country’s 21st Congressional District heats up, Doheny and Stefanik are transmitting to voters the differences they believe will carry them through the June 24 GOP primary to the November election.
The pledge, the invention of Harvard-educated political activist Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Relief, has been wielded like a club until it has become a necessity for political candidates wanting to be viewed as fiscal conservatives. As that movement has been in its ascendancy over the last few decades Norquist and his allies have demanded that candidates “take the pledge” or be branded as reckless with taxpayers’ money, or worse.
Both candidates wish to be perceived as conservatives. Doheny sees Stefanik’s refusal to accept Norquist’s edict as an invitation for him to attack her from the right side of the political spectrum. Stefanik sees her refusal to sign “the pledge” as a badge of honor.
Stefanik has pledged not to raise taxes, but she claims a measure of independence and just won’t sign on with Norquist’s Washington, D.C. organization.
“As I've made very clear to the voters of this district over the course of the campaign, I have pledged that I will not vote to raise taxes,” she said in a statement on her Facebook page.
“… I will only make one pledge during the course of my campaign and that pledge is to you, the people of this district. Unlike other candidates in this race, I will not sign a pledge from any Washington DC based special interest group. Our district deserves an independent representative who will challenge the failed status quo of Washington, not make pledges to it,” she said.
“It was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it was good enough for Paul Ryan, it was good enough for Doug Hoffman -- but apparently it’s not good enough for Elise Stefanik,” Doheny said in reaction to Stefanik’s stand.
“Stefanik’s refusal to take the pledge against raising taxes on struggling North Country families and businesses is as troubling as it is confusing. The fact is Elise likes to talk about new ideas, but if new ideas means new taxes we’ve had enough of them in the 21st Congressional District,” Doheny said in his statement.”
“Unlike Stefanik, I don't believe Paul Ryan and the other representatives who signed the pledge are part of a ‘failed status quo,’ I believe they are the only thing in the way of higher taxes.”
The power of Norquist’s standing is evident in the close of Doheny’s statement:
“Finally, I am happy to stand with Ronald Reagan, Mitt Romney, George Bush and the 200 plus House Republicans and reaffirm my solemn pledge to voters not to raise their taxes.”
Doheny, a former Wall Street executive and current investment manager in Watertown, ran twice before and lost to Democratic Rep. Bill Owens of Plattsburgh, who is not running again.
Stefanik returned from work in Washington, D.C. in George Bush’s administration and with the 2012 GOP National Convention to her family’s Albany County plywood business and began running for Owens’ seat even before he announced he was not running for another term.
Owens has been touring the North Country with the candidate he endorses to succeed him, Democrat Aaron Woolf of Elizabethtown and New York City.