SACRAMENTO -- Conservative shock jocks and national anti-tax groups are keeping the heat on Republicans who may be considering taxes as part of California's budget solutions.
And they're relying on a well-worn axiom: that the wrath of GOP voters will fall on any Republican who breaks from the party ranks, even if it's just to allow voters to decide whether to extend the current level of taxes.
But the experience of the six Republicans who voted to hike taxes in 2009 suggests that the accepted wisdom is more like an urban legend.
Of the six Republicans who voted for taxes, only one later went on to defeat in a Republican primary. Two captured GOP nominations in statewide contests, another was elected to a county post and two others dropped out of politics.
"The impression is that they were browbeaten into submission," said Bill Whalen, a fellow at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution and speechwriter for former Gov. Pete Wilson. "But I don't think it's necessarily a death warrant to side with taxes. It's just not the third rail it's made out to be."
Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed extending the 2009 taxes for five years to go along with $12 billion in cuts as a way to resolve the $26.6 billion deficit but has struggled to find Republican support for placing tax extensions on the ballot.
With fewer than two weeks to go before his March 10 deadline to produce a budget, Brown has intensified private talks with Republicans
For the handful of Republicans quietly considering tax extensions, pressure to hold the party line is relentless.
Radio talk show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, who have a large conservative listener base in Orange County, have already begun their "heads on a stick" campaign, targeting several Republicans they believe may vote with Brown.
When a group of 30 Republican legislators formed a "taxpayer caucus" last week, notably 12 Republicans had not joined, including Sens. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, and Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, the two Republicans who have not signed a no-tax pledge.
Outside groups such as Americans for Tax Reform continue to hold Republicans to the fire, threatening to instigate voter backlash if they break the anti-tax oath.
A vote to raise taxes "damages the entire brand for all Republicans, not just the few tax hikers," said Patrick Gleason, state affairs manager for the group. "And it usually puts an end to their political career. It's well-documented."
Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, recently told the New York Times, "The people of California will crush them if they break their promise."
State GOP Chairman Ron Nehring said he's convinced "there are consequences."
But last fall, when Republican voters had a chance to punish two former legislators who had voted for temporary taxes in 2009, they instead chose Abel Maldonado as their nominee for lieutenant governor and nominated Mike Villines for insurance commissioner.
Both lost in the general election to Democrats, as did all seven Republicans running in statewide contests.
Voters in Stanislaus County -- where Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman outpolled Brown -- elected former Senate GOP Leader Dave Cogdill, one of the six who voted for taxes, as county assessor.
Roy Ashburn and Anthony Adams dropped out of elective politics, accepting well-paid appointments from former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The only one defeated by a Republican electorate was Roger Niello, a former Assembly member who failed in his bid for the Senate in a special election primary in the summer.
No Republican was more vilified for voting for the taxes than Adams, a former Inland Empire Assembly member. Kobylt and Chiampou made him the poster boy for anti-tax hostility with daily criticism and threats of a conservative "fatwa" to bring down his career. Conservative activists mounted an expensive recall campaign that hailed his coming doom, setting up signature-gathering tables at tea party rallies.
Adams quit politics last year, but not before defeating the recall, which failed to get enough valid signatures to oust him.
Sen. Bob Huff, R-Glendora, also beat back a recall. He had voted against the taxes, but in favor of Schwarzenegger's ballot measure asking voters for a two-year extension on the taxes. That was enough for anti-tax activists to go after him.
But, once again, the threats failed to materialize and the recall effort fizzled.
Still, Huff said he lives with the stigma of having been a target of a recall.
"I have to spend time saying I didn't vote for taxes and I didn't violate my pledge," he said. "Any future opponent can say the recall attempt was because I voted to raise taxes. And I have to spend a fortune to defend myself. It is a real threat."
Maldonado, who just announced that he will run for Congress in 2012, has little sympathy.
"Welcome to the real world," he said. "Voting for a tax increase as a Republican is a very, very big vote. But if you're up there worried about the next election and about explaining your vote, let somebody else govern."
Maldonado said he overcame the stigma by laying out realities to voters. At the time of his vote, the state was issuing IOUs to thousands of vendors, was on the verge of an economic collapse and was facing a $40 billion deficit on top of a $20 billion deficit from only months earlier.
"Some were still not happy, but people understood," he said. "I'm sure there were a lot of folks who didn't vote for me because of my tax vote, but that's their choice. But I ran against a conservative candidate who campaigned against my budget vote and I beat him."
Maldonado defeated his former Senate colleague Sam Aanestad by 12.6 points in the GOP primary for lieutenant governor. His 3.8 million votes in the general election loss to Democrat Gavin Newsom was the third-highest total among the seven Republicans in statewide contests.
Critics say Maldonado had the advantage of incumbency, having been appointed lieutenant governor earlier in 2010 by Schwarzenegger. But others point out that if Republicans wanted to punish Maldonado for his tax vote, they should have been able to recruit a strong candidate and to gather enough financial support to defeat him.
Villines narrowly defeated Brian Fitzgerald, an unknown and underfinanced opponent, in the GOP primary. But he still collected more votes -- 3.5 million -- in the general election than two of the Republicans' most conservative statewide candidates, Tony Strickland and Mimi Walters.
"The reality is, you'll take a hit," Villines said. "What's important is, what's the alternative? Are you able to show voters that you were able to get some important reforms like a spending cap or pension reform in exchange? If you do these things, voters will say OK."