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August 1, 2015

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Republican resistance to Grover Norquist started early in Nevada

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Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist speaks at Americans for Tax Reforms annual Tax Day Eve news conference, April 14, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

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A bevy of Republicans in Congress created quite a stir last week when they announced they would be willing to ditch a once sacrosanct pledge never to raise taxes. The announcement is a step toward a compromise to avoid the fiscal cliff.

“When you’re $16 trillion in debt, the only pledge we should be making to each other is to avoid becoming Greece,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. said on ABC’s "This Week."

Soon, other congressional Republicans followed suit, earning a sharp retort from the pledge’s keeper, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.

While the dire situation with the federal debt spurred the movement by some Republicans away from Norquist’s pledge, Nevada Republicans started marching that direction some time ago.

State Senate Republicans—with an eye toward attempting to take over the majority in the upper house—made the strategic decision early this year to endorse candidates in the primary who generally had a more moderate view when it came to taxes and other issues.

None of the candidates they endorsed signed the tax pledge, opting instead to face decisions over Nevada’s cash-strapped budget from an everything-is-on-the-table position.

The strategy had mixed results. Although Republicans won three of the five competitive Senate races, they fell one seat short of taking the majority back from Democrats.

The failure to snag the top prize, however, didn’t force Senate Republicans to rethink their antagonism toward Norquist’s pledge.

Quite the opposite. Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, who actually signed the pledge before his first campaign for office, sharpened his rhetoric against it in the weeks after the election.

“I don’t think he’s good for our party. I don’t think he’s good for politics,” Roberson said of Norquist on the political talk show "To the Point." “I think most people in this state want people who are reasonable and thoughtful and will consider putting everything on the table. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about tax reform, spending reform and all of the issues.”

Roberson and other Republicans caution that shouldn’t be read as an endorsement of any increase in taxes. But it’s a distinct shift away from a caucus previously dominated by Republicans with a more ideological opposition to tax increases of any sort.

Still, champions of the pledge continue to defend it.

Chuck Muth, known as the keeper of the Nevada pledge, wrote Roberson off as a hypocrite for criticizing Norquist and said voters will have the final say when Roberson runs for re-election two years from now.

“He has completely flip-flopped and is now in direct opposition to the Republican Party’s stated platform position opposing tax increases,” Muth said on "To the Point." “Maybe he has the support of the vast majority of the people and taxpayers in Nevada, but he’s going to have a big problem trying to persuade his own party’s base that he is in the right position on this issue.

“I’m telling you, the grassroots Republicans in this state do not support Michael Roberson. They support the position of Grover Norquist.”

Muth also sought to marginalize congressional Republicans who said they’d break the pledge, saying the fiscal cliff debate is the perfect test case for the importance of the signed promise not to raise taxes.

“A lot of these folks have signed the pledge years ago when it was easy to sign the pledge, when there were no real efforts to raise taxes,” Muth said. “What we have now is a serious effort and serious pressure to raise taxes and you’re seeing that most of the Republicans, the vast majority in Congress, are sticking to their guns.”

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