Warner could have turned the 2004 election into a
referendum on his tax proposals. But he didn't want
to take the risk. Now he will pay the political
price of his caution.
a proclamation of rarely matched cynicism, Gov. Mark
R. Warner congratulated himself after the polls
closed on November 4 for providing “straight
talk” to Virginians. This is the same man who
refused to tell voters before the election whether
or not he would propose another tax increase, how he
intended to reform Virginia’s tax code and what
kind of state budget he would recommend next month
to the General Assembly.
statement surely would have drawn more attention had
it not been for an even more outrageous election
night comment by state Sen. Henry Marsh, D-Richmond,
who fumed that approval of a mayor-at-large ballot
measure by voters in the capital city would lead to
a race war there. Marsh was unfazed by the fact that
the measure carried by an 80 percent margin and was
approved by a majority in each of the city’s nine
districts. One obvious difference between the
remarks of Marsh and Warner is that Marsh’s were
spoken in the emotion of the moment, while
Warner’s were a calculated follow-up to an equally
calculated campaign strategy to keep voters in the
to come clean with the voters before the election
was proper undermines our political process.
Warner’s flimsy excuse for hiding his tax plans
and refusing to discuss an issue of such public
importance before an election is that campaign
debates involve nothing but sound bites.
a doubt, the rough and tumble of political campaigns
leads to excesses and distortions. That hardly
justifies Warner’s arrogant refusal to
should have laid out what he proposes. If the voters
can’t see through slogans and distortions,
that’s their problem.
real loser in this political drama is Warner
himself. Because he made every effort to
prevent the 2003 elections from becoming a
referendum on taxes or even on his own performance
as governor, he can’t fairly claim a mandate for
any proposal of his own.
aren’t earned by keeping things from voters.
Had Warner taken a big
political risk by laying out his proposals and
aggressively defending them during the election
campaigns, he could have taken advantage of a deep
division in GOP ranks. There were GOP candidates
openly advocating higher taxes and others solemnly
pledging to oppose any tax increase.
high-risk campaign by Warner might have stirred up
enough support to assure the election of some
Democrats who lost on November 4. By the same token,
such a high-risk campaign could have led to the
defeat of one or more Democrats who won last
simply decided not to risk much in 2003. He must pay
a political price for his default.
may have brought upon himself the worst of both
worlds. He can’t reasonably claim that voters have
endorsed tax reform or tax increases, and he has put
additional steel in the backbones of GOP lawmakers
who campaigned unapologetically against any tax
increases — and won. This will make his lobbying
of Republicans in the General Assembly all the more
the end, the more important issue is not what
Warner’s wait-and-see strategy has done to his own
political fortunes or to the fate of tax reform, but
what his strategy has done to public confidence in
our political system. Warner should not be
surprised to find that, because he showed so little
confidence in our political system and in the
voters, Virginians have less confidence in the
system and in Warner himself.
November 17, 2003