Monday, June 29, 2009

Is Deeds Painting Himself Into a Corner on Taxes?

The answer, in short, is maybe.

The other night in Lynchburg, Deeds and Bob McDonnell took the stage separately, but at this point in time, as the candidates size each other up, it was as close to a debate as we will get -- at least for the next four weeks.

Here was the lede in the RTD coverage of the event:
Gubernatorial hopefuls R. Creigh Deeds and Bob McDonnell, in their first back-to-back appearances on the same stage, told Boys State attendees in Lynchburg yesterday that they could improve transportation in Virginia without raising taxes.

Deeds, a Democrat, said he would seek to pay for better roads by promoting business growth that would increase state revenues, but ultimately that growth depends on better roads.

"I have no plan to raise taxes," Deeds said twice.

McDonnell, a Republican, said he'd try to finance roads by "cutting spending on things that are not a priority."


I recently wrote about the GOP’s desire to have a debate on taxes with Deeds, saying the Democrats need not fear this debate. I noted the blog Mason Conservative, which wrote, “So yes, please o' please Deeds and Dems, run on who's going to cut taxes and who's not,” and responded as follows:
The problem is that voters will not necessarily frame the question like Mason Conservative does. The salient issue will not be "who's going to cut taxes and who's not." The issues voters will more likely be concerned with are who has a positive agenda for moving the state forward? Who has pragmatic ideas for solving the transportation problems of the state? If my taxes will go up, what will they be used for? Who will level with me about all the facts so I can make an informed decision?

I stand by what I wrote, but if the issue becomes, as Mason Conservative framed it, who will raise taxes and who won’t, Sen. Deeds will lose that argument, if not the election. No Democrat can beat the single-minded refusal of Republicans to acknowledge the legitimacy of any tax.

If voters are going to frame the issue in a favorable manner for Deeds, it will be because Deeds have effectively framed it for them.

Given this, Sen. Deeds engagement on the issue in Lynchburg did not bode well.

“I have no plan to raise taxes” is, for all intents and purposes, engagement on the GOP’s turf. It sets the stage for a discussion over who is more likely to raise taxes.

I understand the tactic -- blow the tax hiker allegation off by simply denying any intent to raise taxes. I'm just not convinced, however, it will work.

First, it affords the Republicans the opportunity to say Deeds is, well, lying about his intentions. The fact is that Deeds did vote for recent tax increases to fund transportation, so if he is going to say now he has no plans to raise taxes, he will need to explain why raising taxes seemed like the right medicine several months ago. This feeds into the caricature Republicans like to paint of Democrats -- we're incurable tax-and-spenders who won't level with voters during elections.

Read, for example, what Bearing Drift had to say today about this:
Don Beyer, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine could all do the “I’m not going to raise taxes” spiel with no voting record to deny and to suggest they might was to commit some grave sin of prevarication.

But Deeds does have a record, a long, long list of voting for tax increase after tax increase. Deeds voted for regional tax increases for Hampton Roads the same time he voted for massive tax increases across the state (we in Hampton Roads got a double whammy).

I’m not a professional political operative, so I won’t embarrass myself by trying to suggest a better message for Deeds, but (oh, okay, I will embarrass myself) as I said in my earlier post on this, it seems to me the effective response to the Republicans lay in a crafting a pithy argument along the lines of this: Deeds is a pragmatist searching for practical solutions to our problems. He will not take anything off the table if it will help the Commonwealth’s economy grow and make everyone more prosperous. No one can deny Transportation is an essential part of that. Bob McDonnell, on the other hand, is a ideologue trying to peddle the same narrow discredited economic policies of George W. Bush, unthinking reponses that are really no more than slogans that may sound good in a stump speech, but that we know from our current situation don’t work in the real world.

Perhaps I give the voters too much credit, thinking that they can understand this level of nuance. And, of course, it is easy for me, as a relatively anonymous blogger with nothing on the line professionally, to contribute my two cents. I'm quite honestly not certain what I would suggest were there a possibility of anyone actually listening to what I had to say, so perhaps the professionals have it right: When it comes to any mention of taxes, at all costs deny, deny, deny, and worry about it tomorrow.

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