the Republicans Regroup?
with dissension after the 2004 budget debate,
Republican legislators may be licking their
self-inflicted wounds for a long time.
is no way to avoid the conclusion that, even as
Republican leaders in the House of Delegates voted
against the $1 billion tax increase last Tuesday,
they actually helped to secure its passage.
Speaker William Howell and House Majority Leader
Morgan Griffith made one decision after another that
facilitated tax bills they publicly proclaimed to
oppose. On the very day the package of tax and
related measures was approved by the House, Howell
sent one of the bills to a House committee likely to
report the bill to the floor rather than to a
committee likely to kill it. He also had every
justification to make a ruling that would have
blocked another bill in the package, but chose to
bring it to a vote.
Howell made a deal not to use his office to block
the tax package, itís difficult to see why he did
so or what he received in return. In fact, he still
canít assure his colleagues that the tax fight is
over. The Senate is likely to continue ratcheting up
the total tax increase as the budget is worked out
yet the collapse of the House of Delegates in the
showdown over taxes this year was due less to any
particular actions either of these two GOP leaders
took than to the absence of any consistent strategy.
The leadership vacuum in the House was evident early
in the regular session.
Republicans are wondering how the House, which the
GOP controls by such a large margin, could have been
rolled so easily. No one expected this outcome when
the regular session began in early January.
is mystifying that Howell and Griffith resorted to
so many different tactics, including a proposal for
a referendum on any new taxes, yet never used the
most potent weapon in the anti-tax arsenal. They
never made a concerted effort to show that curbing
government wastefulness and inefficiency could
eliminate the need for a massive tax increase.
Howell and Griffith now have the worst of all
worlds. Seventeen House Republicans publicly defied
their leaders on the most controversial issue facing
the General Assembly in 2004. The remaining House
Republicans are bitter about the outcome of the tax
fight. And the Democrats in the chamber have a new
lease on life because of their role in putting
together the coalition with dissident Republicans
that succeeded in winning passage of new taxes.
House Republicans who supported the $1 billion tax
hike will never be comfortable in the House
Republican Caucus so long as it is led by men they
openly rebelled against. It may not be possible for
them to make amends with the majority of House
Republicans who fought the tax increase to the end.
the grumbling from the anti-tax House Republicans
about the failure of their leaders during the tax
fight will subside between now and the beginning of
the 2005 session, but thatís hardly a safe bet.
Next year is an election year and tensions will be
there any hopeful sign for Republicans? Maybe.
Mark R. Warner may be more vulnerable than the
pundits acknowledge. Voters will be reminded
repeatedly that he broke his campaign promise not to
$1 billion in new taxes will disappear like water
poured on sand. Will voters see any significant
improvement in state services? If not, the negative
effect of higher taxes will register more clearly
question remains: can Republicans regroup?
May 10, 2004