past the headlines about all the partisan wrangling
and you'll realize that Mark Warner has accomplished
a lot during his nearly three years in office.
you looked up the BOOK OF JOB in the Bible of
Virginia Politics, if there were such a thing,
surely you’d find Mark Warner’s picture there.
about it. Think
about his first two years. The tribulations have been almost Biblical in
scope. Floods. Droughts. A
100-year hurricane. To say nothing about a tanking economy, an
opposition legislature, or a six billion dollar
budget gap. Makes
you wonder when the frogs and the locusts are going
to show up.
of us wish, from time to time, that he’d be more
partisan, more confrontational, but we may well be
wrong about that. There is a lot to be said about the wisdom of
only picking fights you can win.
Perhaps we haven’t given Warner the credit
he deserves in this regard.
review is in order. In his first two years, Warner and his
in all, not a bad few months when you think about
that’s just the policy side of the equation.
What’s the score on the political side? First Democratic gains in the House of
Delegates in a generation. Look it
got a note the other day from
Bob Holsworth, the erstwhile professor and commentator at
University. It was
a couple of days after the election and he had
written to respond to a column I had put up. Among other observations he made was
Democrats are to be successful statewide, they will
need to have a message very similar to the one that
worked in Fairfax. But
what seems, at least to me, to be an enormous hurdle
these days is to convince the public in a number of
areas of the Commonwealth that state government is
he continues: “The
odd part, of course, is that we have a relatively
efficient state government compared to other places
around the county, but are woeful in communicating
what it does. What do you think?”
I wrote him back:
problem with communicating good or even efficient
government is a tricky one. “Good” government is out of sight and,
consequently out of mind.
“Bad” government — long DMV lines,
potholes, $200 hammers, etc. — is much easier to do.
Same with “good” news in general.
You never see a TV anchor standing in a
beautiful field, gravely explaining that a "plane
did not crash here today." Virginia
is run relatively well and efficiently, and I think
one acknowledgement of that is voter apathy. Satisfied people don’t show up and applaud
at boards of supervisors meetings—only those folks
madder’n hell about something. My guess is that is pretty much the case at
the state level, too.”
we even have an election? Well, maybe you could call it that. Statewide, two out of three of the voters did
not participate. That’s about the same percentage
of the House and Senate seats that were uncontested. Pretty pathetic when you think about it.
the low turn out, despite so many uncontested races,
despite the apathy, despite even some sense of
status quo "satisfaction," I think we’re going
to see a shift to center in the coming session of
the General Assembly.
the past couple of years, the core, primary
functions of state government — educating our
children, moving the goods and services of our
commerce, providing some livability standard for our
elderly and others who truly cannot provide for
themselves, and making our neighborhoods safe places
to live, work, and raise our families — these core
functions have not been driving public policy in
somehow seemed to think that we could shrink to
greatness — that we could put off forever critical
investments we need in transportation, education,
health care — and a lot of other things so central
to our well being.
the last session there were 31 abortion bills and 33
gun bills. And flag
bills. And pledge of allegiance bills. And
plate bills. Regardless
of your views on these issues, on guns, on abortion,
I don’t think you’ll see these issues dominating
as much of the debate as we did last time.
Republican members of the General Assembly — and
some Democrats -- will still drink a cat blood oath on
not raising taxes. They remain intellectually dishonest. They don’t want to talk about the $275
million in "fees" that were increased during the
last session. They
don’t tell you that they’re responsible for
forcing many local governments in Virginia to raise
taxes this year, or for forcing all of our colleges
and universities to increase tuition rates across
localities still send our children to school in
gutted our transportation department.
Road needs pile up by the billions.
Until Governor Warner’s Education for a
Lifetime program, our recent education initiatives
consisted of vouchers and charter schools and tax
credits and a teach-the-test, Pavlovian conditioning
program called the Standards of Learning.
drifted into a government of gimmickry and
Car Tax. Standards
of Learning. Compassionate
think we’ll drift back to center some now.
happened when Republicans took control of Virginia
for the first time in 150 years? The Speaker of the House resigned in
Speaker’s aide pleaded guilty.
The executive director was indicted and
convicted. The chairman pleaded guilty and resigned.
He’s on probation now. And they failed to produce a budget
holding the governorship and both houses of the
what a wobbly start Republicans got off to. But they are steadied some now and, in my
estimation, will see again the linkage between
business and government, the connection between good
business, sound transportation policy, strong
community schools and a social program that makes
course, the Warner administration understands this
Warner gets it. Really,
he always has.
November 17, 2003