Alarm Bells for Kilgore — Message Not Resonating With Local Gov’t Officials

Russ Potts received a standing ovation at a Virginia Association of Counties gathering in Charlottesville Sunday for a speech in which he stated his willingness to raise taxes and denounced Jerry Kilgore, as a “coward.” Kilgore, by contrast, drew a “tepid” response when he appeared earlier in the day and defended his proposal to cap real estate assessment increases at five percent, according to a story filed by Virginian-Pilot writer Warren Fiske.

For the first time in this campaign, I actually agree with Potts: State government should not meddle with local taxes. Enough is enough, the independent candidate for governor said. The flexibility of local governments has been crippled already by the General Assembly’s efforts to reduce car taxes. “Let me see a show of hands for how many people think the commonwealth of Virginia should have anything to do with the way local governments assess real estate taxes,” Potts asked. Of the 50 local officials in attendance, not one raised a hand.

There’s a fundamental principle at stake: The state should address those issues, including taxes, over which it has direct authority and for which it is accountable, and leave local matters to local elected officials.

Assuming the Pilot’s account was a fair and balanced capsulization of what transpired (not something that I take for granted), the Republican contender turned in a weak performance. Kilgore argued that a limit on assessment increases is needed to protect homeowners from the escalating tax bills that accompany soaring home values. “I know my plan is not popular in this room, but I also know it’s something we must do for the taxpayers of Virginia,” Kilgore said lamely. “I ask today that you not judge me on one proposal.”

What Kilgore should have done: He should have challenged local government officials to combat higher taxes by more aggressively cutting expenses. Local governments, like the state, should be continually re-engineering administrative processes and using IT to bolster employee productivity. Even more fundamentally, counties need to rethink their zoning codes and comprehensive plans that perpetuate scattered, disconnected, low-density development patterns that make it impossible to efficiently provide an urban level of municipal services. Unfortunately, Kilgore has never indicated that he has much of a grasp either of re-engineering or land use reform, so it’s not likely that we’ll ever hear such a message from him.

In fairness Potts seems totally unacquainted with those concepts, too. His solution to every problem is simply to raise taxes. But he’s right about keeping accountability where it belongs.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    It’s interesting how different journalists write very different stories after covering the same event. Tyler Whitney with the Richmond Times-Dispatch left a very different impression than Warren Fiske. Where Fiske reported 50 local government officials in attendance during Potts’ speech, Whitney said the number was 150. Where Fiske said Potts received a standing ovation, Whitney noted that they “laughed and applauded frequently” but made no mention of a standing ovation. Where Fiske focused on the Kilgore’s proposed cap on real estate assessments as the most noteworthy item of debate, Whitney didn’t mention it until halfway down his story. Finally, where Fiske wrote that Potts “denounced his Republican opponent … as a ‘coward,’” Whitney wrote: “Potts said ‘referendum is spelled C-O-W-A-R-D.’”

    I’m glad I covered my buttocks in the original post by basing my comments on the caveat that “the Pilot’s account was a fair and balanced capsulization of what transpired (not something that I take for granted).” Kilgore came off looking much better in Whitney’s story than in Fisk’s. The coverage of this event is a textbook example of how a reporter’s coverage can slant readers’ perceptions.

    I’m inclined to give more credence to Whitney’s version of events, based on his more authoritative version of the “coward vs c-o-w-a-r-d” anecdote. Were any readers of this blog there? If so, what are your impressions?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    The problem for local governments is that Richmond electeds run for office by promising to cut taxes – usually at the local level such as the car tax and real estate taxes -but never state taxes. The locals are faced with meeting SOL/SOQ requirements, no child left behind, paying greater shares of social and public safety programs, and even picking up transportation costs. In the meantime, Richmond continues to spend every dollar that comes in the door, as evidenced by the unanimous vote to spend this years “surplus.” There is a clear lack of direction and focus in the State and how it spends its money and who is responsible for what.

  3. The Jaded JD Avatar
    The Jaded JD

    Kudos again, Mr. Bacon. The state should keep its hands off the authority of local government to raise (or lower) taxes as local needs require. Too many in their quest for lower taxes are willing to sacrifice the Republican principle that the government closest to the people govern best.

  4. What’s funny is that this group wouldn’t vote for a Republican in a million years.

    In any other year, they are a solid Democratic constituency, but now they are flirting with Russ Potts?

    Any vote Potts gets out of VAC officials is a vote taken directly from Kaine.

  5. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    More fuel, only a few drops, for the fire from a microcosm of the Republican vote. Our unit (City) committee in Poquoson (12,000 folks) met on Saturday. About 12 party faithful there which is normal for a meeting in a town that is in the top three for per cent of voters voting in any election and for Republican votes across the Commonwealth.

    A retired doctor complained how he had contacted the Kilgore campaign about their transportation plank for a regional taxing authority – which we the voters defeated twice at the polls in the last 7 years. He said he hadn’t gotten a response. He was frustrated.

    Kilgore’s idea of Richmond messing with local property taxes was brought up.

    The discussion ended with a sense of purpose and enthusiasm I recall from the Dole Campaign in 96. Ah, the Dole Presidency, wasn’t that something?

    It isn’t too late for Kilgore to ‘fix’ his campaign positions based on blow back from RINO senators who have come out in public against his plan. I doubt that it will happen.

    The absence of focus and energy I see at the grassroots for Kilgore is appalling. No doubt these folks will vote for Kilgore like they did Dole.

    Kilgore will still win, I think. Maybe other Republicans working other grassroots fields find a burning passion for Kilgore and his campaign platform. Maybe.

  6. Behan:

    Are you kidding? They’re as mixed as they come. But they’re sick of getting the shaft from opportunistic state politicians.

  7. The Jaded JD Avatar
    The Jaded JD


    I’m with Paul. I doubt very much Henrico County, for example (let alone, say, Chesterfield), sent a delegate to the Virginia Association of Counties meeting who wasn’t at least open to the idea of a Republican elected official.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Not sure what world y’all live in, but VaCo is a strongly “R” group given it comes from Virginia’s counties. See counties are rural and suburban for the most part, yes, even in Virginia. So when the elected leaders of Orange, Halifax, Rockingham, Roanoke, Culpepper, and Tazewell Counties pooh-pooh a Republican, it is worht taking note. Kilgore’s campaign is taking on water. And once all of the people at VaCo go back home and starting talking to their fellow Board of Supervisors and citizens, Kilgore’s numbers may take a bit of a dip. Do not downplay this – Kilgore had a chance to establish credibility given his experience in VaCo (wasnt’ he their lobbyist a while ago?), but he blew it, hard. At least that is the report I’m hearing from people who were there.

  9. subpatre Avatar

    Anonymous9:30 has a good post that outlines state-related (or caused) problems most localities have. It’s true that counties vex under Dillon, but mandate funding is the biggest problem. From the Comp Board‘s blatant short-changing of Constitutional Offices to DOC’s calculated delay accepting prisoners; the state treats localities poorly and there’s been little effort to fix it.

    Despite a majority of ‘R’ labels, VACO’s legislative agenda probably lines up to the left of Virginia Republicans: statewide conditional zoning, state funded PDRs and scenic easements, nuisance taxes, more transportation funding, more Shell Buildings, etc. It can be summarized “Mo’ Money”

    Don’t read too much into the Charlottesville meeting. VaCo’s only good for a few votes, mostly administrators who aren’t party affiliates. Few local elected officials risk campaigning, even for their own party, unless the return –and probability of return– is high. Then too, it’s the Assembly, not the Governor, that really impacts counties’ budgets.

Leave a Reply