Grover Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), a coalition of taxpayer groups, individuals and businesses opposed to higher taxes at both the federal, state and local levels. ATR organizes the TAXPAYER PROTECTION PLEDGE, which asks all candidates for federal and state office to commit themselves in writing to oppose all tax increases. To date, 172 House members, and 34 Senators have taken the pledge. On the state level, 7 governors and over 1100 state legislators have taken the pledge. A native of Massachusetts, has been one of Washington’s most effective issues management strategists for over two decades.
Mr. Norquist also serves on the board of directors of the National Rifle Association of America, the board of directors of the American Conservative Union, is a Contributing Editor to the American Spectator Magazine, and serves as president of the American Society of Competitiveness. He also the author of Leave Us Alone – Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives.
Question: Who really has the power in Washington?
Grover Norquist: My argument is that power isn’t exercised in Washington, D.C. The power flows in from districts and states where people are elected to the Senate. Nobody listens to me on taxes because, “Grover has an interesting idea and he’ll fight me if I don’t support it.” They listen to what Americans for Tax Reform has to say about taxes because they know we communicate with voters in their districts. Then by taking the pledge, we have helped to clarify where a congressman or senator stands on taxes. And that is easy to explain into the district. The pledge is a simple way of saying, “There are two teams. Which one is the congressman on?” Okay? So that I can say to a district or to a voter, “He’s made the pledge never to raise taxes,” or he hasn’t. They’re not trusting me.
I don’t have power. I am communicating something clearly. And the ability through the pledge to clearly communicate where your politician stands on an issue that voters care about. If I was explaining where the candidates stood on radishes, the politicians would not particularly care about my ability to communicate into his district about radishes because he doesn’t think that’s going to change votes. But they do believe – and I think correctly – that if I can articulate where that candidate stands on taxes, that it moves votes. And so where does ATR – Americans for Tax Reform – or Grover Norquist wield power? No. The voters wield power. We’re a communications vehicle to let them know what’s going on. And the pledge is a tool that makes it clear. Because otherwise people would go, “Oh well, you know I would really rather not.” You sign or not. Yes or no. __________. Which is it?
It is a powerful tool. It is a powerful issue. The organization – Americans for Tax Reform – communicates powerful vote-moving ideas and issues into people’s districts. And I can and do go to elected officials and say, “I have an idea that I think might help you communicate with your constituents where you want to go.” And because we have a track record of having brought them ideas that worked, that people. So people take the meeting and often buy into ideas. So that gives you an access to a congressman.
If I called a senator or a congressman, they’ll call back to talk about whatever it is. I don’t mean they’ll do what I suggest, but I do have the access to say, “I’ve got an idea. This might work for you. What do you think of this?” And if you develop a track record where you’ve given people good ideas, then they’re even more willing to talk to you the next time.
Recorded on: September 12, 2007