One Side Will Prevail
Warner versus Howell, bet on Warner.
The governor has two big advantages: the veto and
Commonwealth is at a crossroads.
Do we stand paralyzed? Or do we finally embark on a path that
restores the fiscal integrity, invests in our core
assets and prepares
or a brighter and more prosperous future?
Governor Mark Warner
make no apology for believing that what we should be
committed to here is preserving for the citizens of Virginia
the maximum freedom to chart their own courses,
to expend their own resources, and to prepare
the best possible future for themselves and their
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Bill
Thus, they’ve laid it out for us, these two, drifting
inevitably to this time, to this place.
They have slow-danced each other for a year,
probing, calculating, seeking some sense of depth
and will, some understanding, some advantage across
this great divide.
The battle was joined when the 60-day General Assembly
convened Wednesday. No
matter what happens, things will never be the same
when this one is over. We have come to that decision place.
We will either have more government, or less. One side will win.
Only one philosophy will prevail.
Fairfax Del. Richard Black, R-Sterling,
a leader of the "less" side, summed it up
going to be a watershed session.
There will be a decision, ultimately, over
the course of Virginia,
Can one forecast what that decision will be, what course we
will take? No.
Most insiders say Howell and the no-tax House
will prevail — and, on paper, he should — but
there is enough hedging going on that they
may later be able to say with a straight face,
“Told you he’d lose.”
The breakout on this session is, obviously, not along
strict party lines. Warner
has Chichester and probably a majority in the Senate
— but not all of his Democrats in either chamber.
He’s going to lose one or two Southsiders on any tax increase vote — in the House and in the
Why is that? There
are no, strictly speaking, Democratic districts left
in Southside Virginia.
And the few Democrats still holding seats
here do so only tenuously — and only as long as
they look, talk, and act like Republicans on the
core Republican issues — abortion, guns, tobacco
and taxes. These
are Virgil Goode Democrats.
They can be Democrats on the margin —
education, transportation, jobs, health care, etc.
— but on the core issues they have to look, talk
and act Republican to survive.
So how does Warner overcome this?
Can he overcome it?
He can. And
he gave a hint that he understands that he can
during his State of the Commonwealth speech
Wednesday when he clearly raised the issue of his
veto powers. Bill
Howell’s weakness, his Achilles heel is his lack
of a veto-proof majority in the House.
For individual members in the House of Delegates to huff
and puff about how they’ll never vote for
increased taxes is one thing.
To sit them down one-on-one and point out to
them that every single, solitary bill they want,
every pet project, every nickel in the budget, will
be vetoed if they don’t is something else.
Some of these folks would find it hard to go
home and explain that they could deliver exactly
nothing — nada, zip, squat—to the home folks.
And most observers detected a resolve, a
willingness on Warner’s part to do just that, if
necessary, in the speech he gave Wednesday.
If Warner can’t
muster the individual votes he needs to pass his
version of the budget — and inherent in that, his
tax reform plan -- he still has the option of
blessing or denying the budget itself, an option the
University of Virginia’s Larry Sabato says is
significant, if the governor will use it.
“If he’ll stick to his guns and not buckle on the veto
he’s got them,” Sabato says.
Do they want another budget train wreck?
I don’t think so.
Look what happened in 2001.”
And here’s the other thing:
It is bold. It
is visionary in scope.
It is leadership and statesmanship defined.
But it’s more than that, too.
It gives Warner a "get-out-of-jail"
pass on the tax issue.
And did you see the addendum that came with
Look at Fairfax County.
Under Chichester’s plan, Fairfax County
picks up an additional $104 million in car tax
replacement funding in 2005 and more than $18
million a year in additional school funding in 2005
and 2006. Vote
against that and go back to Fairfax and try to get
The average Virginian won’t discern the difference
between Chichester’s plan and the governor’s —
the average Virginian doesn’t even know that the
General Assembly is in session — but no matter.
Whatever happens — and most observers
concede that Chichester will, in fact, get a lot of
what he wants out of the Senate and at least over to
the House — Warner will get credit (and blame,
too) for it.
And one final point. If
the governor has enormous leverage with individual
House and Senate members, so does Chichester.
Every bill that spends a penny — and nearly
all of them cost something — must get by him
before it becomes reality.
And he wasn’t napping when the legendary Ed
Wiley, and later, Hunter Andrews, gave lessons on
how to use the chairmanship of the Senate Finance
Committee to one’s advantage.
So what happens? What’s
the upshot of all this?
On paper, certainly, Howell still prevails.
How am I betting? My money is on the governor.
January 19, 2004