Bacon Encounters the Prince of Darkness, Finds Him Disarmingly Charming

House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, was “shaking with anger” yesterday after the Senate Finance Committee rejected his compromise plan for transportation for the second time this month. As reported by Christina Nuckols with the Virginian-Pilot, the Speaker said:

I think we may just reject it and go home. I have a very fragile coalition in the House caucus that took a lot of cajoling to get them this far. We had a compromise… and that was my plan. Now it’s been completely repudiated.

By contrast, his nemesis Sen. John H. Chichester, R-Northumberland, was in an expansive mood yesterday evening when dining at Azzurro, a swanky Italian restaurant in the “west end” of Richmond. I know this because I happened to be sitting at an adjacent table with my wife and son, celebrating her birthday.

Accompanied by Sen. William C. Wampler Jr, R-Bristol, two women (presumably wives) and another man I did not recognize, the prime minister of the Axis of Taxes appeared in a jovial mood as everyone at the table engaged in animated conversation. (I cannot tell you what was being said: The hub-bub of the restaurant drowned out the words, and I would not have listened in any case: I respect the privacy of others, even if they’re on the “other side.”)

I have written extensively about Chichester, almost always critically, but I had never met him before. Was he really the prince of darkness, as I have so often portrayed him? As my family was leaving the restaurant, I introduced myself and congratulated him on his “legislative victory” that afternoon — his maneuver had already sparked a barrage of e-mailed press releases into my in-box. Ever the Virginia gentleman, Chichester rose from his chair and shook my hand. He modestly downplayed his accomplishment, suggesting that he’d just done what was “best for Virginia.”

Sen. Chichester no doubt has more important things on his schedule than perusing Bacon’s Rebellion, so he may be unaware of how relentlessly critical I have been. Regardless, he was most cordial. Indeed, when I told him that I would like to interview him to get “the other side of the story” into Bacon’s Rebellion, he readily agreed and gave me the name of his scheduler. With luck, fellow rebels, I will be able to pose the tough questions to Chichester in person that I have aired online. In the meantime, I will give the devil his due: He could have blown me off for interrupting his dinner, but he proved to be most charming.

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11 responses to “Bacon Encounters the Prince of Darkness, Finds Him Disarmingly Charming”

  1. Jim:

    I have known John Chichester for almost 30 years.

    He is a good, solid public servant trying to do the best for all of us.

    His politics is very similar to that of former Governors Mills Godwin and John Dalton, both now deceased.

    I am pleased at the tone of this posting.

  2. The gretaest trick of the devil was to convince the world he didn’t exist.

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I agree with Rodger on Chichesters reputation in the Fredericksburg Area.

    He is well thought of and many think they he has the best interests of Virginians in mind.

    He truly believes that his principles with regard to the budget are correct.

    One of the problems not addressed by those who favor the use of the General Fund is that there is a presumption that there will always be a surplus and always be enough of a surplus to dedicate a set amount to transportation – which is what you’d need to have a viable six year plan.

    You cannot have a six year plan when the funds for the out years are TBD.

    From my viewpoint – this is what the House Republicans are advocating…

    TBD’s and road projects don’t work.

    If nothing else.. the last couple of years that resulted in a funding meltdown at VDOT should be evidence enough on that issue.

  4. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Larry I think you may be confused or else I am interpreting you wrong.

    The use of the surplus only occurs in FY 08.

    The 250 million happens every year after. When you have a 74 billion budget and growing you can find room to dedicate 250 million to transportation in my opinion.

    Heres the numbers. They may be off a bit due to some tweaks in the bill.

    It could be argued a surplus should be returned to the tax payers. Instead the surplus is used to fund additional programs. One could argue between funding programs or returning the money. Currently its always fund new programs and never return the funds. There should be more of a balance in my opinion.

    I also think its a good idea to have a rainy day fund for when things turn south.

    Just the views of a single moderate Repbulican who supports the house plan over the senate one.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    NMM – thanks for the link.

    you’re right. I was a bit confused.

    It’s actually worse than I thought!

    It’s a flat 250 in the out years no matter what happens on the revenue side PLUS 1/2 of any surplus.

    The obvious question is what happens if there is a shortfall vice a surplus?

    VDOT will take that money – not in hand – and roll it into projects and if there is a revenue shortfall – unless your moderate conservative friends go for an across-the-board cut to stay on budget – we’ll be seeing higher taxes – right?

    This “feels” not comfortable.

    It seems to foster an more volatile budget process in the future.


  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    I have no doubt that His Lordship Sir John Chichester thinks that he is doing best for Virginia. But, his (and Tommy Norment springs to mind) ungracious comments about criticism of his largesse on the behalf of the beknighted peasantry earned him his moniker from me.

    He may mean well. He may be lovely to his wife and dog.

    He is dead wrong on economics and public policy.

    He needs to go away – for the sake of the Virginia that he thinks he is actually serving.

  7. nova_middle_man Avatar

    The 1/2 surplus thing that is just there to sweeten the deal. Nobody knows what the dollar amount would be year to year. That’s why in the totals its not even listed.

    The larger 250 million thing is up for debate really. There are democrat talking points against it but personally when you look at the larger 74 billion dollar budget 250 million is nothing. Little Johnny is not going to be uneducated grandma won’t freeze to death by spending an extra 250 million on transportation every year. I also view the arguments as a red herring the fact is for many democrats there is no such thing as too much money. Even if we had say a 5 billion surplus I would bet you people would find a way to spend it before even thinking about sending it back to the taxpayers ok off soapbox :-p

    As far as an economic downturn is concerned there are all sorts of ways to deal with it. Personally for me I would use the rainy day fund and then institute a freeze from the prior year and if it was really bad maybe reduce across the board by 1% of something.

    When Warner became governor he made some tough but smart cost reductions. Then he said we needed new taxes.
    Everything works in cycles and now we have surpluses and spending is above what it was before Warner make the cuts even after you adjust for inflation and population growth. The next time there is a downturn hopefully we won’t have to raise taxes by doing what I said last paragraph. Or there could be sunset previsions on the taxes.

    I will submit it is kind of strange that the Republicans are choosing to fight over Transportation. The budget is growing by 12% plus under their watch. To me we could trim that to say 8% and use the rest for transportation. To come full circle the 250 million actually does just that. However if the Rs started identifying specific areas where the 250 million was coming from the Ds would have a field day.

    Last point remember the Republican plan is a compromise plan There are some delegates that would like that number to go to say 500 million and get rid of some of the fees. Howell had to sweet talk some delegates to support the plan.

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Even if we had say a 5 billion surplus I would bet you people would find a way to spend it before even thinking about sending it back to the taxpayers”

    Strongly Agree.. Constitutional Amendment – Surplus automatically goes back to taxpayers as a refund
    unless 3/4 of both houses overrride.

    What a CONCEPT!

    “As far as an economic downturn is concerned there are all sorts of ways to deal with it. Personally for me I would use the rainy day fund”

    agree – per GAPP accounting practices… i.e. look at past trends and build rainy day fund to deal with new kid on the budget block – transportation funding.

    You’re right 250 million is chump change… that amount of money will buy about 25 miles of minor arterial… or 4 interchanges… or 3 or 4 miles of urban interstate.

    The ICC in Maryland – 18 miles long will cost more than 100 million dollars a MILE.

  9. nova_middle_man Avatar

    One other thing arguably this whole issue started because the Transportation fund was used as the rainy day fund.

    Instead of locking up transportaion funding to be used for transportation funding. It has been constantly raided to provide for other programs. No wonder we have a shortfall in transportation

    A pox on both parties for stealing from transportation and creative accounting.

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    NNM – The idea of the TTF was pedicated that user fees – the gas tax was to be dedicated to serving the folks who paid those fees.

    When VDOT starting getting 1/2% of the sales tax – more than 700 million a year – from everyone rather than just buyers of gasoline that concept was undercut and from the view of those who would take money out of Transportation – their rationale could be that it did not belong to that fund exclusively anyhow – that the designated of the 1/2% was discretionary …

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  11. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Thanks Larry I’ve only been in Va for a couple of years

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