Virginia Pundit Watch

Will Vehrs





The General Assembly had barely begun when an immediate pall was cast over the proceedings. The death of former Senator Hunter B. Andrews, D-Hampton, shook the institution and put politics as usual on hold.


Tributes to Andrews poured in from all corners of the Commonwealth. Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in his reporter capacity, anchored excellent coverage of Andrews’ life and accomplishments. In his Sunday column, he related his personal experiences with the legislative giant, concluding, “Hunter Andrews always wanted Virginia to be better. And if that required he be a cantankerous pain in the patootie, so be it.”


Former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles offered a tribute to Andrews in the Daily Press, full of colorful anecdotes about a colorful figure. Baliles gave credit to Andrews for his success as legislator, attorney general, and governor. Unfortunately, the former governor used Andrews’ passing to take a partisan shot, unfavorably comparing “the Hunter Andrews type of citizen-legislator and some others we read about these days.” He accused current legislators of being pessimists, tearing things down, and thinking only of the present. We do not speak ill of the dead is a good rule; we should not use the dead to castigate the living would be another good rule.


The most heartfelt remembrances of Sen. Andrews were in a Daily Press editorial that undoubtedly reflected the contributions of Gordon Morse:  

Hunter Booker Andrews died Thursday night, and Virginia mourns the passing of a true son.


This commonwealth is better because of Hunter Andrews. He was a great Virginian because he believed that Virginia itself - rich in history and powerful in potential - was meant to be great. For us to be at our best was Hunter Andrews' life work.

Other tributes, in other papers, will surely follow.


There were two other transitions to report. Thankfully, they do not involve a funeral.


Dave Addis of the Virginian-Pilot and Preston Bryant of the Roanoke Times announced that they were giving up their pundit pens. Addis has always been one of the funniest, most acerbic wits among Virginia’s chattering class. His wife, editor of the Pilot, is stepping down and he decided to follow her lead, although he may continue in some reduced capacity. Bryant, the Lynchburg Republican Delegate, recently was bounced from his seat on the House Appropriations Committee, allegedly as “punishment” for his leadership role in last year’s tax increase. Is there a connection between that and ending his column? You decide:  

When I first ran for office a dozen years ago, I relished the bare-knuckled side of the game. Today, I’m much keener on the policy side of it all. That said, I am certainly aware that such evolution can’t ever totally leave behind raw politics. After all, it’s still survival of the fittest -- and you’ve got to survive if you want to continue thinking broadly, speaking truthfully, and acting responsibly.


Perhaps it’s now time that I refocus on the game, that I return to the mindset I had a dozen years ago, all so that I can regain some slightly lost footing and tackle policy goals anew.


Then -- who knows? -- maybe I’ll have gained a whole new vantage point from which to begin again writing about the world around me.

Dave Addis and Preston Bryant will be missed.

The General Assembly: Two Views


Bob Gibson of the Daily Progress performed a useful service by explaining “brochure bills,” those measures that are exclusively meant “to beef up the re-election bids of some of the nearly 100 members of the House of Delegates running in 2005 for new two-year terms.” Most, he concludes wryly, deserve “a swift and timely Richmond dispatch.” A. Barton Hinkle of the Times-Dispatch scored with a Cliff’s Notes parody.  Sample:  

The quarreling grows more intense in Acts II, III, and IV as patience thins and tempers fray. In the corner the Scribes, identified by their press cards, busily jot down cliches such as "patience thins" and "tempers fray.

Tell Us How You Really Feel


Jeff Schapiro, never one to disguise his good guys or bad guys, went into a caustic frenzy for his first Richmond Times-Dispatch column of 2005. He called Senator George Allen a “gap-toothed buckaroo,” but the real target of his ire was newly elected Richmond Mayor and former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. He charged Wilder with a conflict of interest because of his relationship with Virginia Commonwealth University, an entity with major business pending before the city. He scoffed at Wilder’s VCU professorship, wondering if his class load “could get any lighter.” 


The bow-tied flame-thrower was just warming up. In an innuendo-laden fact drop, Schapiro informed readers the new mayor received campaign contributions from the wives of VCU President Eugene Trani and VCU pundit-professor Robert Holsworth. Wilder, he writes, “perhaps is too busy running victory laps around the cesspool of corruption he promises to drain and refill with his own brand of purified government.” To Schapiro, this is nothing new:

Because past ethics problems have done little to slow his historic ascent -- perhaps imbuing him with a sense of invulnerability -- Wilder never hesitates to push the edge of the envelope.” Wilder, eligible to receive social security as well as other salaries and pensions, is a potential quadruple-dipper” whose attacks on severance payments for Richmond City officials differ little from farewell bonuses he doled out as governor.

Return the Surplus


Melanie Scarborough argued in the Washington Post that the General Assembly should return the budget surplus to taxpayers. She criticized several examples of new spending, for example:  

Consider Warner's proposal to spend more than $21 million in grants for "regional economic development in distressed communities." What would these grants accomplish that isn't already being dealt with by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, the Department of Business Assistance and a dozen other business development programs?  

A. Barton Hinkle had previously dismantled the rationale for this piece of spending. Scarborough missed a chance to give a good example of why these grants might not be needed: in Gov. Mark R. Warner’s State of the State speech, he made three major economic development announcements, all accomplished with existing resources.


To Err is Human


In my last column I praised Roanoke Times columnist Reginald Shareef for reviewing his year’s work, but chided him for never finding a mistake. I spoke too soon. Shareef does his annual review in two parts. In part two, he graciously acknowledged making undeserved and unsubstantiated charges against US Attorney John Brownlee. Brownlee, one of the up-and-coming leaders in Virginia, received a written apology from Shareef.


Short Takes


If you haven’t been to the Capitol Square area recently, Hugh Lessig and John Bull almost make you feel dust blowing from the massive renovation.…


Marc Fisher looks at an affordable housing controversy in one of Virginia’s most Democratic areas. “Arlington County is known as being liberal and open—until it comes to their backyard.”


Could open space in Loudoun County be preserved more effectively by purchase instead of zoning? A planner explains.…


A UVA history professor has four problems with the charter university proposal under consideration by the General Assembly.…


Never let it be said that Virginia officials aren’t willing to go to the ends of the earth for the good of the Commonwealth. Mark Taylor neatly summarizes fallout from a September safari to Zimbabwe by the Game Board.


Blog State


Virginia may be developing blog networks that will be as influential within the state as blogs have been nationally. An elected official who blogs under the pseudonym John Behan has formed the Old Dominion Blog Alliance (ODBA), a group of conservative weblogs:


The ODBA is something I've been thinking about for some time, as I watched the Dakota Alliance play a big part in Tom Daschle's defeat last year. I envisioned a similar alliance in Virginia, with conservative blogs from around the state keeping Virginia's mainstream media honest, and helping to get conservative candidates like Jerry Kilgore elected. Once the New Year arrived, I decided it was time to get to work on the Alliance, and things have fallen into place since then.

There's a quote from Margaret Mead that has always struck me as profound:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” That's what we're
striving for with the ODBA. We want to be a network of bloggers that can help move Virginia in the right direction


Behan’s contribution is Commonwealth Conservative, where he mixes Virginia and national politics.  Other interesting blogs in the alliance include the intriguingly named One Man’s Trash and Cathouse Chat. The site with the most depth is SW Virginia Law Blog.


Liberals have blogs, but no “alliance”: Commonwealth Commonsense and Virginia Progressive. A blog that hasn’t clearly established a partisan slant is Virginia News Review, although “Hefty Lefty,” a new Virginia contributor to, claims it as left leaning.


With all this choice in partisan blogs, it may be time for Bacon’s Rebellion to start the definitive Virginia blog that presents all points of view.


--January 17, 2005

















Will Vehrs grew up in Prince William County. He has a degree in American history from the College of William and Mary and an MBA from Chapman University. Will's experience includes a stint with a Fortune 500 company and economic development work in state government. His "Punditwatch" column appears on and Jewish World Review, as well as on his own Punditwatch website. He also writes for the Quasipundit political site.