in Warnerland: PART II
by Steven Sisson
The Valley Blue Dog Democrat
[Columnist Steven Sisson,
a conservative "Blue Dog" Democrat, has attended the U.S.
Naval School of Photography and Photojournalism. In the past, he has
written a monthly column for the Common Ground organization's
newspaper about issues dealing with peace, justice and the
environment. But Steve's fiscal views and thoughts are slightly
"right of center" with his own party philosophy.]
Gilmore Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
you foolish Mark Warner!" he answered himself. "How can you
learn lessons in here? Why, there's hardly room for YOU, and no room at
all for you in any history books!"
And so he went on, taking first one side and then the other, and making
quite a conversation of it all together; but after a few minutes he heard
a voice outside, and stopped to listen.
"Mame Reiley! Mame Reiley!" said the voice. "Fetch me my
One Virginia PAC money this moment!"
Question the public about Warner ... the first thing that comes to mind is
his bank account. He is worth millions.
His private life and political career has been shaped by dollar amounts.
His election campaigns bode like an economic-stimulus package for the
Third World. Whether a Senate or governor's race, or a well-funded
transportation referendum campaign, money has always mattered with Mark's
But who will pay the bill for the Gilmore car-tax repeal?
Warner's deep pockets and ability to raise money in Democratic circles has
helped bankroll his political career, and now he will make an attempt at
his tax-reform legacy. This year, the governor's support assisted with the
Renew Virginia's School PAC campaign against anti-tax GOP primary
candidates and the One Virginia PAC contributions that targeted General
In the GOP spring primaries, there were rumors of a governor's request
that Democrat faithful and teacher-union members vote to assist moderate
GOP incumbents against the anti-tax challengers. That's probably when the
real campaign to advance the Warner tax plan began, because these
tax-friendly Republicans would be needed after Nov. 4.
Amid the 2003 General Assembly campaign, there were more rumors of Warner
pandering to tax-soft Republican incumbents while overlooking Democratic
candidates in those districts. The One Virginia PAC denied the accusation,
but within private circles most political handlers understood the stealth
campaign to re-elect the political power brokers who favored tax
Moderate tax-soft Republicans faced stiff competition in 2003 from
anti-tax candidates around the Commonwealth. But that Democratic
opposition was not considered viable by the Warner administration, and the
One Virginia PAC, in an attempt to placate a future tax vote. Without
these tax-friendly GOP votes, the Warner tax plan would be doomed for
failure in the 2004 session.
Political pundits and this columnist also speculated publicly that Warner
and his staff did not assist Democratic candidates in order to preserve
his tax-reform legacy.
That strategy worked for him this election cycle. But this is not good
medicine for a political party that is on the verge of becoming obsolete,
with dwindling numbers and few wins in statewide elections.
Around the state, especially in rural Virginia, a good segment of the
Democratic committees are in the same condition. The meetings are sparsely
attended with a majority of older membership. They share stories about
their latest health crises while complaining about not having any young
folks in the party. These are good people, but the party is not recruiting
or attracting younger, more conservative voters.
With the exception of Alexandria-Arlington region and the city of
Richmond, Democratic Party candidates are considered unelectable in large
portions of the state. The party has lost touch with rural Virginians.
Democratic Party issues should not be based on one individual's
self-interest or his potential legacy. Future political considerations,
like elections to higher office, are selfish motivators in a big political
tent, especially in the Commonwealth, where convictions and core issues
still matter to most party faithful.
Mr. Warner's fiscal legacy of tax increases and his surrender to
Republican tax cuts might gain his national prominence, but Virginia
Democrats will ultimately bear the cost.
In the end, the Democratic faithful will pay that bill.
Mad Hatter Hanger's Tea-Party
was a table set out under a tree in front of the governor's mansion, and
the March Hare Parrish and the Mad Hatter Hanger were having tea at it; a
Louderback-Mouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two
were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and the talking
over its head.
"Very uncomfortable for the Louderback-Mouse," thought Mark
Warner; "only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind."
The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one
corner of it: "No Taxes! No Taxes!" they cried out when they saw
the governor coming. "There's PLENTY of room for taxes!" said
Mark Warner indignantly, and he sat down in a large armchair at one end of
"Well then, how about increasing the gas tax," the March Hare
Parrish said in an encouraging tone.
This past July, the tax commission planned a private meeting at the
governor's mansion. Warner, Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, and other
tax commission members said it was a social gathering - a tea party at the
governor's mansion. It was only open to the public after watchdog
organizations and news reporters across the state protested about the
The American Civil Liberties Union and General Assembly's Freedom of
Information Advisory Council both said the meeting was in violation of the
law. Attorney General Jerry Kilgore was "deeply" concerned, as
was Speaker of the House William Howell, who called for an open meeting to
discuss tax reform.
In fact, almost every Virginia editorial newspaper editor chastised the
governor and the Hanger-Del. Harry Parrish, R-Manassas, Tax Commission
about the closed meeting.
That's when the tax-commission doors finally opened, but when the
governor's mouth clamored shut about tax reform. The public never saw a
tax plan throughout the election.
Yes, through the summer, Hanger did utter a proposed increase in the
cigarette tax, and Parrish talked about an increase gas tax, and Del.
Allen Louderback, R-Luray, announced his service-sales tax plan, but the
governor's lips were sealed until after the election.
To his credit, Mr. Warner did manage to keep that promise.
The Hanger-Parrish Commission proved out to be only window dressing. The
tax commission never voted on anything - not one recommendation - other
than to hold open meetings. That's the only thing the tax commission ever
The Hanger-Parrish Commission joins an exclusive club of do-nothing state
government, starting with the Morris Commission, and then Del. Bob
McDonnell, R-Virginia Beach-Hanger Tax Restructuring Committee, which
adjoined last year after making 10 tax-reform recommendations. If the
Hanger-Parrish tax commission does have a better plan, why are they
waiting until January to debate the proposal?
Maybe the public would have been better off reading tea leaves.
Obenshain Griffin, the GOP Queen of Hearts
with their heads!
"How do you like the new GOP Queen?" said the Chichester Cat in
a low voice.
"Not at all," said Mark Warner: "She's so extremely
Just then he noticed that the Queen was close behind him, listening: So he
went on, " ... likely to win, that it's hardly worth while finishing
The GOP Queen smiled and passed on.
This past September, Kate Obenshain Griffin was elected as the Virginia
Republican Party chair. She is the daughter of the late Richard Obenshain,
who was the architect of the modern, conservative wing of the Virginia
GOP. Lower taxes and limited government are her heritage and will be her
mainstay through the tenure.
Chairman Griffin has already stated that Warner has no mandate to raise
taxes on the hard-working men and women of the Commonwealth. She recently
added that Warner has officially broken his solemn campaign promise not to
After all, a 1-percent increase in the state sales tax is a tax increase.
The next GOP chairman has laid down the gauntlet, but does she have a
solution to the car-tax debt? Or how to pay off the estate tax? Both are
Republican tax-cutting initiatives that the Democrat Warner has adopted as
his own legacy.
What political party will eventually represent Virginia taxpayers?
Special-interest groups and powerful law firms have long advocated a
Virginia tax increase. Big money, and businesses likewise, have pushed for
a new era of taxes. These interest groups can control and command with
their PAC contributions to General Assembly candidates in both parties.
But no one ever speaks for the average Joe and Jane Taxpayer who pay the
Virginia's tax code is regressive in nature, affecting lower and
middle-income families the most. Neither party panders to these voters,
other than to promise to cut unpopular taxes. If Virginia has a fiscal
crisis, then problem solving a sensible state budget should be the goal of
Chairman Griffin will need to showcase an effective GOP tax plan before
casting any more stones. Anyone can stir the political cooking pot, but
serving up a healthy solution to the table takes real leadership.
Trouble is, Kate's royal-card deck is stacked with alternative tax plans
from moderate GOP members, like Chichester, Parrish, Hanger and Louderback.
In the end, the plethora of new taxes and tax proposals strangely resemble
Warner's tax plan.
All the so-called tax reform plans include new taxes.
And that's the problem. It's a finger-pointing game right now.
Later the blame game, and then it's off with their Republican heads.
Mock Tax Reform Story
I know!" exclaimed Mark Warner, who had not attended to this last
remark, "it's a tax increase. It doesn't look like one, but it
"I quite agree with you," said the moderate Republican
leadership; "and the moral of that is ... 'Be what you would seem to
be' ... or if you'd like it put more simply, 'Never imagine yourself not
to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or
might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have
appeared to them to be otherwise.' "
"I think I should understand that better," Mark Warner said very
politely, "if I had it written down: But I can't quite follow it as
you say it.'"
In 1989, Valley resident Marshall Coleman campaigned for governor on a
promise to change Virginia law requiring any new tax or increase in taxes
be approved through state referendums.
A statewide tax-referendum process was played out in Alabama this year,
and taxes failed to be increased. In the Virginia political arena, the
plausible solution around the elected officials who signed the No Tax
Pledge has become tax referendums.
Apparently, we have elected politicians nationwide that are no longer
willing to take on their elected responsibility. Referendums are slowly
becoming an easy way out for those politicians who do not want the
liability of tax increase. The hard work behind sensible government
planning and legislation has become a politically incorrect way of doing
In Alabama, the tax referendum failed miserably by a 3-to-1 margin. The
current attitude of elected officials is to blame the voting public for
not providing the funding for essential services. Like everything else in
our society, accountability has now become old school for politicians.
Re-election, or a potential run for higher office are the new higher goals
for politicians, not public service, or the responsibility that comes with
that elected office.
Here are some basic facts that may lead to a referendum: The Republican
majority in the 2004 General Assembly will not raise taxes. The GOP state
chair, Kate Griffin, has stated her opposition to a tax increase.
The votes are simply not there.
And all Warner's money is not going help with public pressure in the
Richmond political arena. Thus, forcing a stalemate. Warner will likely
play the tax-referendum card once again - but that might be the madness
behind the method.
That way the governor is off the hook, again, and he cannot be blamed in
future elections for breaking his promise not to raise taxes.
Virginia political analysts have been predicting an Alabama-style
tax-referendum strategy for the Commonwealth for months. The Warner
tax-increase plan might well need to be placed on the fall ballot in order
to pay for his latent campaign promises.
It appears that the losers in the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads
referendums had a well-funded media campaign complete with polling data
and scheduled talk-show appearances. The newest tax war may have been
jumpstarted already with the Foundation of Virginia organization. The
Foundation for Virginia will probably fund a slick public-relations
campaign to increase taxes, which includes direct-mailings and lobbying.
This week, the Warner Administration has provided an income calculator
that magically predicts your purchasing power and tax decreases. The
governor has already begun to masquerade as the head ringmaster in a
three-ringed tax-and-spin circus playing across the Commonwealth. The
Foundation for Virginia campaign could end up resembling the same
public-relations tax battle that was seen in Alabama, which was conducted
like political campaign, complete with all the electioneering
In the end, tax reform will be reduced to a 15-second sound bite.
Warner has already promised to help raise $2 million for the nonprofit
organization. Virginia citizens might have the opportunity to see a few
good TV commercials. Maybe the famed 1990s health-care commercial actors
Harry and Louise will be hired on. How about the Virginia Lottery's Lady
Luck for a guest spot?
Perhaps we might hear a few radio spots and tax jingles as well. And how
about bringing back those ever-popular "Virginia is for Tax
Lovers" buttons, tee shirts and bumper stickers?
That's entertainment. That's politics.
But is that good government?
Warnerland - Part I
Adventures in Warnerland -
Adventures in Warnerland - Part III