For the second time in the last month, Arkansas conservatives are scratching their heads and asking: what is Congressman Rick Crawford thinking?

As discussed previously, Crawford baffled many a few weeks back when he announced a plan to pass a balanced budget amendment in exchange for a temporary five percent surtax on taxable incomes over a million dollars.

While most conservatives piled on the criticism, I somewhat defended this proposal as a noble attempt at compromise to deal with the country’s out of control debt problem.  Unfortunately, the emphasis was placed on the millionaire tax aspect of the plan from the beginning and its inconsistency with Crawford’s no-tax pledge.

Fast forward to this weekend, when Crawford is quoted in an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette saying he is rethinking his position on earmarks.

“Constituents expect their congressman to bring back as many federal dollars as they can,” he said. “I’m only one voice in a very large geographic area. We’ve kind of hit a brick wall” without the ability to earmark projects.

The problem for Crawford once again is that this policy shift is inconsistent with his “no pork” pledge he made during the 2010 campaign.

The pledge by an organization called Citizens Against Government Waste states that Crawford “will not request any pork-barrel earmark, which is defined as meeting one of the following criteria: requested by only one chamber of Congress, not specifically authorized, not competitively awarded, not requested by the President, greatly exceeds the President’s budget request or the previous year’s funding, not the subject of congressional hearings, or serves only a local or special interest.”

You will note that I have said Crawford’s two policy shifts are inconsistent with his pledges.  He has pointed out in a most awkward manner that he has technically not violated his no tax pledge as he has not yet voted for his own proposal.  He can and probably will also argue that this does not violate his pledge as he has not yet put in a request by merely explaining that he now sees the benefit for earmarks – but only with reforms – for a rural district such as the First Congressional District.

I am not sure if Crawford fully realizes the political fire he is playing with in these arguments.  It defies common sense to make a distinction between advocating for a plan or policy and the casting of the actual roll call vote.  It is like arguing over what the meaning of the word “is” is.

As best I can tell, Crawford has had a come-to-reality type of transformation between the difficultly of actually governing compared to election year campaigning.  It is something that all elected officials wrestle with if they are being honest.

Campaign pledges, which seem black and white, quickly turn shades of gray once elected. Everyone is against “pork spending” in the abstract, but that project back home to fund Interstate 555 sure seems like a worthwhile project – right?

So in one sense, it is not really a surprise that Crawford’s viewpoint would change after being elected, but his shift from his resolute pledge from 2010 will be campaign fodder for his opponents during his first election as an incumbent.

In addition, with chronic flip-flopper Mitt Romney likely at the top of the ticket, it will be easy for Democrats to tie the two together.

UPDATE – Grover Norquist of the Americans for Tax Reform discusses his conversation with  Crawford in an article in The Hill today and says that Crawford claims this is an effort to jam the Democrats…

Norquist said he has since spoken to Crawford about the plan, which would violate Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge.

“Rick Crawford thinks he’s jamming the Democrats. He said, ‘Grover, they’ll be exposed as such hypocrites because they won’t go for the balanced budget amendment even though they say the reason they want to raise taxes on rich people is to balance the budget,’” said Norquist. “He’s not doing this because he wants to raise taxes on rich people or he thinks this is a popular position. He thinks he is embarrassing the Democrats.”

A spokesman for Crawford did not respond to a request for comment.

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Jason Tolbert is the moderator for his opinion blog, The Tolbert Report. He can be reached by e-mail at Jason@TolbertReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TolbertReport.