Guest Column

Peter Ferrara

Virginia's Least Wanted


The Virginia Club for Growth has pledged to campaign against the 34 Republican members of the General Assembly who voted in favor of the biggest tax hike in Virginia history.


Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform, stirred up Virginia politics last week with a simple device that clarified a new political reality in the state. The era of liberal Democrats running as Republicans for state offices is over.


The device was a poster titled Virginia’s Least Wanted. It included pictures and names of the 19 Republican delegates and 15 Republican senators who voted for the largest tax increase in the history of Virginia earlier this year, enabling it to pass through the Assembly.


Underneath each name and picture are two boxes that can be checked. One says “Retired” and the other says “Defeated”. As Norquist explained at a press conference in Richmond on September 14, the poster reflects his commitment to work for the defeat of every one of these tax increasing “Republicans” in upcoming elections.


Certain establishment circles expressed astonishment at this brazen display of active participation in the political process. But rest assured Norquist is not alone in his goal.


The Virginia Club for Growth pledged earlier this year to work for the defeat of every one of these Republicans as well. And this is not a pledge for just one election cycle. The Club will work for their defeat in each and every election in the future until a box can be checked off for every name on the poster. 

Indeed, the Club will be helping to distribute Norquist’s poster statewide. Our goal is to distribute at least 100,000 of them by the time of the primaries next year.


Why We Must Fight


There are two basic reasons for this long term commitment to remove the tax increasers from office. First is that the tax increase was large and completely unnecessary. The increase raised revenues a whopping $1.38 billion over just the first two years, featuring an 11 percent increase in the state sales tax. The state’s own official budget website shows that this tax increase was used to finance an enormous increase in state spending of 13.3 percent in the new state budget. Moreover, without the new revenues from the tax increase, state spending would still have increased a healthy 10.6 percent.


So all the talk about the absolute need to raise taxes to close a state budget deficit was just an elaborate fairy tale. There never was any state budget deficit.  Taxes were increased so state spending could be increased by an out of control 13 percent instead of 10 percent. Taxpayers are not going to get wage increases of 13.3 percent over the next two years.  So the state spending increase is excessive and out of control.


Gov. Mark R. Warner told us that we had to increase taxes to avoid losing the state’s AAA bond rating. But no bond agency told the Governor he had to raise state spending by 13.3 percent. This was another fairy tale from a Governor whose collected state papers at the end of his term will rival Aesop’s Fables.


With the newly adopted budget, state spending during Warner’s term will increase by 26 percent (FY2002 to FY2006. From 1998 to 2006, state spending will have increased by a runaway 70 percent. Yet, when the Assembly was considering the tax increase last year, Governor Aesop and his various jesters told us the state was starved for funds, budgets had already been cut to the bone, and so we had to raise taxes.


The quality of their analysis was reflected in a response to Norquist’s press conference by the News Leader newspaper in the Shenandoah Valley. They wrote,


“Most people are intelligent enough to know that governments, whether they’re federal, state or local, run on money, not magic beans, not promises of growth, not surpluses. They are aware that this money comes from taxes paid by citizens that are necessary in order to fund the infrastructure and services people have come to expect as part of a decent quality of life. Good schools, efficient, well-equipped police forces, responsive fire and rescue teams, and a host of other things – some vital, others less so – aren’t free.”


This would have been a good response, if Norquist had called for abolishing all state taxes. But what he is objecting to is the largest tax increase in the history of Virginia, adopted to support runaway, uncontrolled state spending. So the next time the editorial writers of the News Leader – Gary Stout, David Fritz, Cindy Corell, Jim McCloskey, Dennis Neal, and Macon Rich – feel the urge to write about taxes and economics, perhaps they should just lie down until the fever passes.


They Think They Can Play the Voters for Fools


The second reason for the long term commitment to remove the tax increasers is that the process by which the tax increase was adopted involved a complete negation of the democratic process in the state and gross disrespect and abuse of the voters.  Challenge me if you think you can, but I will show below that voters in Virginia have lost democratic control over state taxes and spending. The tax increase was not adopted in accordance with the will of the people, but rather was dictated to the people by a Big Business/Big Government coalition in what amounts to a highly sophisticated, money grabbing heist. 


Start with Mark Warner's election campaign of 2001. When Warner’s opponent Mark Earley charged in that race that Warner would raise taxes, Warner denounced him as a scurrilous, low politician for making this false charge without any foundation. He did so, indeed, in ad after ad financed out of the vast personal Warner fortune. Warner said, “The fact is that I will not raise taxes.  My plan states it. I've said it throughout this campaign."


Warner also said during the 2001 campaign, “It's going to be tough to manage the budget without raising taxes [as Wilder did], but I'm going to do it,"

Warner also said, most dishonestly of all, "The old style of politics, of saying anything to get elected, is not what we need. Instead, as a businessman, I will clean up the budget mess in Richmond, restore accountability, and -- no matter how many times my opponent may say otherwise -- I will not raise your taxes."


Yet, just two years after he was elected, Warner proposed a tax increase of $1.1 billion, the largest in the state’s history. Obviously, Warner thinks the voters can be played for fools.


But Warner was not alone in this dishonorable conduct.  he tax increase that was enacted earlier this year was actually 25 percent larger than Warner originally proposed. That was because of the conduct of the Senate Republican leadership, and in particular Senate Finance Committee Chairman John Chichester.

Chichester led a dozen Republicans, half the Republicans in the state Senate, to cosponsor a bill that proposed to raise taxes by an insultingly silly $3.9 billion. They proposed to raise the state sales tax by 22 percent. They proposed to raise income taxes by 15 percent. They proposed to raise gas taxes by 20 percent. Overall, they proposed an increase in the state budget of 20 percent. Even Howard Dean never proposed anything so far left in Vermont.


But that was not all. Chichester and the Senate Republican leadership also said they would shut down the state government and not pass any budget if they didn’t get their tax increases. Because of this far out, extremist stance by Chichester and his Senate allies, the final compromised tax increase was, as mentioned 

above, 25 percent larger than Warner even asked for.


But these far-left tax policies were not what Chichester and his allies were offering the voters when they faced primary challenges the summer before last. Chichester’s campaign literature asked voters to “Join his campaign for lower taxes.” His literature also alleged that he was a “Leader in the fight for lower taxes.”


In a campaign letter, Chichester said, “You can always count on me to support our shared Republican principles of smaller government, lower taxes…”  He told the Richmond Times Dispatch (May 9, 2003), “I’m certainly not going to favor raising taxes.”

When Chichester’s primary opponent Mike Rothfeld charged, correctly as it turns out, that Chichester was plotting a massive tax increase with Warner, Chichester said Rothfeld was “hallucinating.”


In another campaign piece, Chichester said, “I’m focused on a conservative agenda of keeping taxes low and holding the line on spending.” In still another campaign piece, Chichester said that his tax policy would be, “Hold the line on taxes during tough economic times and then provide additional tax relief when times are good.”


In short, Chichester campaigned like he was Ronald Reagan. But just a few months after he was elected, he sought to govern like he was, well, actually, to the left of Howard Dean. The same dishonorable conduct was followed by Russ Potts, Tommy Norment, Emmett Hanger, and other Senate Republicans when they were running for office.


If voters wanted to vote against these high taxes, who were they supposed to vote for? They thought they had voted against tax increases by electing large Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, including Chichester and his mendacious band of thieves. Indeed, they thought they had voted against tax increases when they voted for Mark Warner.


Indeed, the voters actually voted against the tax increase enacted earlier this year. Just over a year earlier, we had referenda in the two most populous areas of the state, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, on the sales tax increase that the Assembly has now passed. Even though the tax greedy special interests spent $2.5 million in each area to fool the voters into supporting the increase, the people voted it down by landslide margins of 63 percent to 37 percent in Hampton Roads and 55 percent to 45 percent in Northern Virginia. If the opponents had $2.5 million to spend in each area, we would have beat those referenda by 75 percent to 25 percent.


But just a year after the people had spoken, the tax increasers went down to Richmond and voted it through anyway. So much for respecting the will of the people. But, again, these tax increasers only have contempt for the will of the people. They only respect the opinions of the Big Money special interests that contribute to their campaigns. 


Some opinion outlets in the state, like the Daily Press in Newport News and the Virginian-Pilot, openly applaud this duplicitous, dishonorable conduct as just smart politics. They should reconsider just what ideological stance they are promoting these days.  Liberals are for democracy and government by the people.


Restoring Democracy in Virginia


In next year’s state elections, we will have the chance to restore democratic accountability and control over taxes and spending in Virginia. That is why the Virginia Club for Growth is looking to support primary challengers to each and every one of the tax increasing legislators listed on Norquist’s poster.


Indeed, the first primary has already effectively been held. The sudden, surprise retirement of Congressman Ed Schrock forced the Second Congressional District Republican Committee to choose a new candidate. Two were considered: state Sen. Ken Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who stood with Chichester to force the tax increase through, and state Del. Thelma Drake, R-Norfolk, who voted against the tax increases. The Committee overwhelmingly chose Drake, who was supported by the national Club for Growth, Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, and other taxpayer groups across the state.


If Ken Stolle had fought against the tax increases instead of supporting them, he would be settling into his office this January as a new Congressman from Virginia, for he would surely have been chosen as the more senior political leader from the region in that heavily Republican district. But now he will be facing a primary challenge in 2007 just to keep the state Senate seat he has. This is known among the grassroots as “Stolle’s Folly.”


But there is another measure of grassroots Republican party sentiment to note, and an ominous development for future primaries. The state Republican party has already adopted new rules banning Democrats from voting in Republican primaries. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that state parties have the constitutional right to adopt such rules. This change will apply to the primaries starting in 2007, when all state Senators will next be up for reelection.


This means that the liberal Democrats in Republican clothing, known at the grassroots as RINOs, will no longer be able to survive Republican primaries with the votes of left-wing public employee union members. In other words, good bye Chichester, good bye Stolle, good bye Potts, good bye Norment.


The Republican State Central Committee, which adopted the new rules earlier this year, knew exactly what they were doing – sealing the fate of the tax-increasing senators who betrayed the party grassroots. Indeed, Ken Stolle himself showed up to argue against the new rules. Leading the argument for the new rules – state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Centreville. When the votes were counted, Stolle managed to win a total of 3 votes against the proposal.


Then there was the morning news poll run by Newsradio 1140 WRVA in Richmond on September 17.  Listeners were asked who they thought was out of touch with the wants and needs of Virginia, Grover Norquist, or the tax increasing Republicans. The final tally showed that 29 percent thought Grover was out of touch. But 70 percent thought the tax increasing Republicans were out of touch.


I daresay that sentiment at the Republican grassroots is running nine to one against the tax increasers. That doesn’t mean they will lose every primary challenge.  It is all about communication – getting the truth out – and that costs money. The tax increasers are already collecting huge sums from the Big Business and Big Government special interests with their hands in the public till. Many will use that money for splashy ads and mailers telling voters again how they will fight for lower taxes, that they never voted for higher taxes (like Emmett Hanger is already saying), and that any opponent who says otherwise is a liar. That is why we have pledged to fight through more than one election cycle.


Some, like Ken Hutcheson, the campaign manager for the gubernatorial race of Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, are already arguing that it is inappropriate for the grassroots to participate in the political process through these primary challenges. Our participation and challenges will divide the Republican party, he says. Apparently, his boss Kilgore has already decided to endorse all Republican incumbents for reelection, even the tax increasers.


But it was the 15 senate Republicans and the 19 Republican delegates who abandoned the Republican grassroots, and voted for the largest tax increase in state history, who have divided the party, not Grover Norquist. It must be said, though, that divided is a bit of a grandiose word for what is going on, because the only people in the party besides Kilgore supporting the tax increasers are their families and personal friends (and not even all of them).


If Kilgore is going to stand with these tax increasers next year and support their reelection, that is his choice. But he should not then expect the Republican grassroots and taxpayer groups to support him in the general election. He will have to look to the public employee unions for that.


We have the right to fight for what we believe in, and participate in the political process to support those who share our beliefs and oppose those who don’t. And you can be sure that is what we are going to do.  


The names of the state senators and delegates on Norqiust’s poster are listed below. The Virginia Club for Growth is again looking for candidates to support in primary challenges against these incumbents next year:

  • Sen. Harry Blevins

  • Sen. John H. Chichester

  • Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites

  • Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.

  • Sen. Charles W. Hawkins

  • Sen. Bill Mims

  • Sen. Thomas K Norment, Jr.

  • Sen. Russell Potts, Jr.

  • Sen. Frederick M. Quale

  • Sen. Frank M. Ruff, Jr.

  • Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle

  • Sen. William C. Wampler

  • Sen. John Watkins

  • Sen. Martin F. Williams

  • Del. L. Preston Bryant

  • Del. Charles W. Carrico, Sr.

  • Del. William Fralin, Jr.

  • Del. Robert Hurt

  • Del. Riley E. Ingram

  • Sen. Walter A. Stosch

  • Del. Joe T. May

  • Del. David A. Nutter

  • Del. Glenn G. Oder

  • Del. Vincent F. Callahan, Jr.

  • Del. Robert D. Orrock, Sr.

  • Del. Del. Harry Parrish

  • Del. James H. Dillard, II

  • Del. Thomas Davis Rust

  • Del. S. Chris Jones

  • Del. Harvey B. Morgan

  • Del. Gary A. Reese

  • Del. Edward T. Scott

  • Del. Robert Tata

-- September 20, 2004


This article was originally published in "Policy Commentary" by the Virginia Club for Growth.
























Peter Ferrara is director of the International Center for Law and Economics in Fairfax and president of the Virginia Club for Growth.



To visit the VA Club for growth website
click here.