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OPINION: Liberal pundit Jon Ralston to receive special award at 2012 Conservative Leadership Conference



LAS VEGAS – The Conservative Leadership Conference announced yesterday that Las Vegas Sun columnist Jon Ralston has been selected to receive a special award at this year’s annual event, the “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery Award.”  He will be appropriately recognized at the CLC’s awards luncheon on Saturday afternoon, June 9.

Ralston has been Nevada’s biggest and loudest and harshest critic of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, as well as candidates who sign it.  But he recently embraced the exact same political tactic as tax pledge promoters for his new pet issue, campaign finance transparency. 

And while some will uncharitably characterize Ralston’s flip-flop as monkey-see/monkey do, we give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s simply “evolved” in his political activities, much like how Barack Obama evolved on gay marriage.

By way of background for those not familiar with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, it is a short, simple written statement established some 25 years ago by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (and co-host of the CLC).  All candidates running the state legislature are urged to sign the pledge, which reads as follows:

“I, (candidate’s name), pledge to the taxpayers of the (number) district of the state of (insert state name) and all the people of this state that I will oppose and vote against any and all efforts to increase taxes.”

Both Americans for Tax Reform nationally, and Citizen Outreach here in Nevada, maintain a list of candidates who have signed the tax pledge and post their names prominently on their websites, blogs and emails.  Both also, from time to time as appropriate, specifically “call out” candidates who have refused to sign the pledge.


Despite regularly criticizing the tax pledge as silly, useless and mindless (or in his own most recent words, “pedantic,” “superficial” and “meaningless”), Ralston recently adopted the exact same tactic to promote an unwritten, conceptualized proposal by Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey (R-Reno) to reform Nevada’s archaic campaign finance laws.

On May 23 – with much fanfare, pomp and circumstance – Ralston announced via the Las Vegas Sun’s RalstonFlash e-newsletter that “either later today or Thursday at the latest, I will have a new blog set up for The Transparency Test, in which I will ask lawmakers to go on the record about Pat Hickey’s reform proposals.”

Ralston is calling it “The Transparency Test,” but let’s call a spade a spade, shall we?

It’s a campaign pledge to support an issue now personally being championed by Ralston himself.  Thus, the more appropriate name is clearly the Ralston Protection Pledge – especially since, according to Ralston, support or opposition to the proposal “will reveal (whether) lawmakers and would-be-legislators…care about protecting the (political) system’s opacity or the public’s right to know.”

In any event, Ralston announced the creation of his blog highlighting the Ralston Protection Pledge and declaring it was important to get “everyone on the record long before 2013, so when Hickey introduces his package on Day 1, it can be passed on Day 2.”

Trying to get everyone on record regarding tax hikes is exactly what we tax pledge supporters have been doing for years.

Further embracing the tactics of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Ralston also announced that he had emailed his Ralston Protection Pledge “to all lawmakers on the ballot this cycle, asking for positions on these key principles.” 

Which is exactly the same thing we do with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge: identify and get on the record the candidates’ position on tax hikes before voters go into the voting booth, not afterward when it will be too late.

Wait, Ralston goes even further in imitating the tax pledge.  Here’s what he wrote about candidates who refuse to respond to his email asking them to embrace the Ralston Protection Pledge: 

“And, yes, failure to answer or some mealy-mouthed ‘I want to see the proposal in writing’ is tantamount to a ‘no’ vote.  I will publish all of the results on my blog, and I will update the list as new responses come in.”

Well, geeze Louise…that’s exactly the position we take with the tax pledge.  Anyone who refuses to sign it or tries to give us some mealy-mouthed verbal assurance is considered, well, tantamount to a ‘no’ vote on protecting the taxpayers.

In addition, anyone who’s read Silver State Confidential over the past several weeks knows that I have been regularly updating our list of who has signed the tax pledge and who hasn’t – exactly as Ralston is now doing with the Ralston Protection Pledge.

Wait. There’s more: Ralston also recognizes that the only way to get many recalcitrant legislators to support his position on this issue is to harp on it over and over again.  Here’s what he wrote:

“So I am going to do what the candidates’ consultants tell them to do with their hollow sound bites to ensure any vacuous idea will sink in: I’m going to keep talking about it, over and over again, until we know who passes the litmus test and who favors corruption.”

Which is exactly what we do with the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.  In election cycle after election cycle, Grover Norquist and I keep talking about opposing tax hikes, over and over again, until we know who passes the no-new-taxes litmus test and who favors raising them.

And get this!  Ralston has even embraced the tactic of derogatory name-calling in his effort to pressure candidates to embrace the Ralston Protection Pledge. 

As you may know, Norquist has often and accurately referred to candidates who vote to raise taxes as “ratheads in Coke bottles” – and Ralston has criticized Norquist for using that reference.  Yet take a look at what Ralston himself wrote last week:

“Lawmakers already are opening their mealy mouths to answer (The Ralston Protection Pledge) , although some are being straightforward and will be given credit. The weasels, so far, are all Democrats.”

Rathead.  Weasel.  You say po-tay-toe; I say po-tah-toe.

Recognizing how far Ralstonhas come over to our camp, Norquist posted a tweet last week: “Imitation/Sincerest/Flattery…Thank you Jon Ralston for endorsement of Taxpayer Pledge.”

To which Ralston replied:  “Asking lawmakers to embrace transparency concepts vs. asking lawmakers to pledge to be automatons is hardly comparable.” 

Sorry, Jon…that dog won’t hunt.  If it looks like the pledge, sounds like the pledge and acts like the pledge…it’s the same as the pledge.

Nevertheless, even though Ralston refuses to acknowledge that his new-found political action tactics have evolved into exactly what he’s opposed for so many years, the rest of us clearly see his flattering imitation of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge for what it is.  As such, we will appropriately recognize Ralston’s political maturation with the “Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery Award” at the Conservative Leadership Conference in two weeks. 

 Congratulations, Mr. Ralston!  Who will be accepting the award for you?

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