Valley Blue Dog Democrat
Why compare the past few years of the Warner administration to Lewis
Carroll's classic tales - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through
the Looking Glass? It seems like an odd choice at first, but there are
many bizarre characters, hidden agendas and twisted scenarios in the
I just could not resist the temptation. The creative juices went into
overdrive, and this self-styled political reformer started drafting his
version of Adventures in Warnerland.
And who better to write that story than the anti-tax Democrat?
Down the Jim Gilmore Rabbit Hole of Debt
was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Mark Warner think it so
very much out of the way to hear the Jim Gilmore Rabbit say to itself,
"Oh dear! Oh dear! Look at the state debt!"
In another moment down went Mark Warner after it, never once considering
how in the world he was to get out again.
In the late 1990s, Sen. John Chichester, R-Stafford, and other moderate
Republicans were warning of the potential debt crises brought on by the
car-tax refund. Gov. Gilmore had placed the state in fiscal crises by not
properly estimating the cost of the car tax repeal. Gilmore singlehandedly
wiped out a huge portion of the state's rainy-day fund, rewrote his own
chaotic fiscal legacy and cleared a path for a Democratic gubernatorial
Mark Warner had positioned himself for that bid at the governor's office
after a surprising showing in a U.S. Senate race against John Warner in
1996. He received 47 percent of the vote in that race, but those votes
came at a cost. More than $10 million from Mark's personal bank account.
In 2001, Mark Warner ran as a fiscally conservative candidate. He said he
would not raise taxes numerous times during the campaign, and he firmly
believed the taxpayer money was a sacred trust. Yes, he said sacred.
It's no wonder the voting public has a problem with Democratic candidates
who used the T word during an election campaign. First, it falls into the
same category as helping farmers, which is the single most overplayed
political promise in the Commonwealth.
Second, it is such a typical political promise, like the famed war against
poverty. It might take a lifetime to accomplish, but who's counting 49
Mr. Warner also promised a businessman's bottom-line approach to the state
budget without increasing the tax burden on Virginians, this according to
the Warner 2001 campaign Web site. In order to be elected, he spent more
of his bank account, painted the opposition as a Gilmore's state budget
protégée and skillfully recruited moderate Republican voters to his
Like Alice, Mr. Warner kept falling and falling deeper down the Rabbit
his eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: He
opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words "EAT
ME" were beautifully marked in currants. "Well, I'll eat
it," said Mark Warner, "and if it makes taxes grow larger, I can
spend more on education; and if it makes the car tax grow smaller, I can
creep under the door; so either way I'll get into the U.S. Senate, and I
don't care which happens!"
Democrats and Republicans should have asked Mr. Warner back in 2001: How
can you run for governor and pledge not to raise taxes, but campaign to
keep a billion-dollar promise that Jim Gilmore made in order to get the
votes of two-car SUV families in the high local-property tax region of
Northern Virginia, where a disproportionate amount of the
additional car-tax-repeal money will go?
In the past two years, GOP opponents have said that Warner has been
ineffective as a lawmaker and powerless in his leadership role as
Let's examine the record: Warner's two-term elected governor proposal
failed in Richmond. Then Warner's regional-transportation tax referendum
failed miserably at the polls in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. His
Department of Motor Vehicle office closings were a political mistake. But
he did manage to reopen those offices to squelch any GOP politicking over
the closings, especially in rural Virginia.
Admittedly, Warner has streamlined some portions of state government, and
his public ratings have been favorable, but the media has overlooked the
accomplishments and focused on the high-profile items, like ACC membership
for Virginia Tech and Major League Baseball for Northern Virginia.
The third floor in Richmond must often resembled a frat house where public
policy papers are randomly misplaced among Virginia newspaper sport
sections. Images of the early, and youthful, Clinton White House come
to mind considering the cavalier approach to managing the public's
business at the State Capitol.
After two years in office, Warner only now admits he underestimated the
state debt, and has reneging on his no-tax-increase campaign promise. The
question is, why has it taken two years to discover a $6 billion budget
blunder and come up with a billion-dollar tax increase as a solution?
Attracting baseball teams to the Commonwealth and increasing Virginia's
ACC memberships apparently took priority over public policy and the
state's debt crises in the first half of his term.
For even Alice in Wonderland discovered things look small when you become
Sen. John Chichester Cat
I don't want to go among mad people," Mark Warner remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Chichester Cat: "We're
all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Mark Warner.
"You must be," said the Chichester Cat, "or you wouldn't
have come here."
This year, the voting public witnessed the highest-ranking GOP member of
the Virginia Senate, John Chichester, getting into a verbal exchange with
his primary opponent, an anti-tax candidate, Mike Rothfeld, that was just
Chichester said of his opponent: "This guy is a goofball."
Rothfeld claimed Chichester had abandoned GOP core values. Conservative
organizations, such as the Gun Owners of America, Eagle Forum and Virginia
Club for Growth, supported Rothfeld and campaigned against the GOP
incumbent. In the end, Chichester won handily, but the election cost for
the candidates was high in dollars and stature.
During the campaign, Chichester denied that he supported a tax increase,
but after disposing of his competition, he fully embraced the idea of tax
increases and scolded conservative Republican candidates running against
Chichester has been advocating new revenue streams to fund transportation,
higher education and public schools since the election. He has a
simplistic, political solution to the budget crises - that calls for a tax
increase. He recently announced support of a tax plan that raised state
revenue and had express kind words about Warner's tax plan.
The political lines have become very muddy water in Virginia. Where the
only thing that really matters is the next election cycle. Just like the
Chichester Cat's smile, political party affiliation and loyalty are slowly
disappearing, but questions remain about his own future political motives.
you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the
"I don't much care where," said Mark Warner.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Chichester
" ... So long as I get SOMEWHERE," Mark Warner added as an
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Chichester Cat, "if
you only walk long enough."
Caucus-Race and a Long Campaign Trail
when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again,
the Sabato suddenly called out, "The race is over!" and they all
crowded round it, panting, and asking, "But who has won?"
question the Sabato could not answer without a great deal of thought, and
it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the
position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him),
while the rest waited in silence. At last the Sabato said, "EVERYBODY
has won, and all must have prizes."
"But who is to give the prizes?" quite a chorus of voices asked.
"Why, HE, of course," said the Sabato, pointing to Mark Warner
with one finger; and the political parties at once crowded round him,
calling out in a confused way, "Prizes! Prizes!"
Political pundit Larry Sabato called the 2003 General Assembly race the
least competitive in 30 years. He was right in some respects. None of the
incumbents lost on either side of the aisle - but don't ignore an obvious
flaw in voter tendencies.
People tend not to vote when there is no difference between the parties
and the issues.
The election results were favorable to Democrats, but only a slight gain
with three seats in the House of Delegates. The Democrats lost one Senate
seat. The Senate is split 24 Republicans and 16 Democrats. The House has
61 Republicans, 37 Democrats and 2 independents. That's not much of a
change from the previous year. The GOP is the majority party in Richmond.
Sabato said most incumbents would be considered safe bets to win. The
combination of Republican redistricting, the unchallenged races and no
outstanding issues brought on one of the lowest voter turnouts in the
history of the Commonwealth.
Who is to give the prizes? Mark Warner, of course.
The governor's handpicked Democratic candidates and his tax-friendly
Republican friends both won. Warner is a popular politician among moderate
Republicans who had been allies with him since the 2001 transportation-tax
In the early stages of the Warner administration, certain promises had
been made about funding transportation projects in Northern Virginia and
Hampton Roads, but a reluctant Republican majority would not advocate a
tax increase for the needed state revenue. GOP members in Northern
Virginia and Hampton Roads had made the same promises to the public: to
stop the traffic gridlock and fund transportation projects in those areas.
Then Warner reached out to moderate GOP members and brokered a deal.
The first tax coalition formed with the assistance of moderate GOP
leadership and the Warner administration. Both backed a ballot referendum
to increase taxes concerning transportation projects in Northern Virginia
and Hampton Roads planning districts.
The opponents formed an anti-tax coalition, but intelligently balanced the
effort with smart growth advocates and environmental organizations that
are usually Democratic leaning in membership base. This balance provided
an opportunity for success as the coalition soundly defeated the
transportation tax referendum by a 3-to-1 margin.
Warner had again relied on big dollars, like with his two previous
election bids, to fund a campaign to encourage a positive voter reaction,
but this time with a voter referendum. All that money, all the promises
and no results - that spelled a lack of leadership on his part and a
failed campaign promise to improve transportation.
The Virginia Club for Growth and Americans for Tax Reform, who supported
the opposition against his Northern Virginia transportation referendum,
are the same groups that advocate the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
Both represent the core opposition of conservative organizations to future
tax increases in the Commonwealth and include a majority of hard-line
conservative Republican legislators in the General Assembly. The
referendum set the stage for the next tax battle.
But who will win the next prize?
Warnerland - Part I
Adventures in Warnerland -
Adventures in Warnerland - Part III