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Pledge drive


When it comes to dealing with an inflexible ideologue, Elise M. Stefanik is right and Matthew A. Doheny is wrong.

Mr. Doheny and Ms. Stefanik will challenge each other for the Republican nomination in the June 24 primary for the 21st Congressional District. While both candidates have taken donations from outside interests, they sparred this week about if and when to sign on the dotted line when making campaign promises.

On her Facebook page Monday, Ms. Stefanik clarified her priority in the upcoming election. And it wasn’t the notorious Taxpayer Protection Pledge for Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform group.

“That is why I will only make one pledge during the course of my campaign and that pledge is to you, the people of this district,” Ms. Stefanik wrote. “Unlike other candidates in this race, I will not sign a pledge from any Washington, D.C.-based special interest group. Our district deserves an independent representative who will challenge the failed status quo of Washington, not make pledges to it.”

In a news release, Mr. Doheny responded: “As a New York taxpayer, I know firsthand the real costs of property, income and business taxes in this state. The ATR pledge is not just some rhetorical policy abstraction for the Harvard Debate Club; it’s a statement of our unwavering belief that New Yorkers are taxed too much and we can take no more. 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.”

Mr. Doheny is correct that many New Yorkers fork over too much of their hard-earned income to public bodies in taxes. And there is no doubt that Ms. Stefanik also firmly believes that raising taxes should be avoided under most circumstances.

But absolutist positions rarely serve public officials — or their constituents — well in crafting legislation. While serving as president, Ronald Reagan exemplified this after signing a sizable tax cut. He relented and raised taxes several times in subsequent years to provide some modest relief to the national debt being accumulated.

Mr. Norquist is convinced that there is never a good time to raise any taxes, and he’s managed to get many members of Congress to sign his pledge. He then wields it over their heads like a hammer to keep them in line.

The problem with his view is that taxes are how we pay for our government and the services it provides. In most cases, proposals for tax hikes are unreasonable because something in a budget can be cut.

But on rare occasions it’s necessary to raise taxes. Elected officials who have signed Mr. Norquist’s pledge find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They may realize that a tax increase is in the country’s best interests, but going back on their pledge will incur the wrath of Mr. Norquist’s devotees.

By refusing to sign the pledge, Ms. Stefanik is opening herself up to opposition from Mr. Norquist and his organization. But she has given her word to people living in the 21st Congressional District, and that should suffice. If candidates cannot be trusted to make good on their promises with voters, why support them?

Ms. Stefanik is no doubt just as committed to not raising taxes as Mr. Doheny is, but she doesn’t believe she needs to make promises to Mr. Norquist. He doesn’t live in the north country and won’t be voting in this primary. The candidates should focus their attention on the people here rather than a one-issue lobbyist.

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