Republican Realignment in the Post-Chichester Era

Here’s more evidence that General Assembly political dynamics will look very different in the post-Chichester era. Conservative Republicans in the state Senate are talking about challenging Sen. Walter Stosch, R-Henrico, for leadership of the GOP caucus. Writes

Two conservative Northern Virginia Republican lawmakers plan to challenge the GOP leadership in the General Assembly, saying the Democrats’ victory in the Senate demands change.

The Republicans’ loss of four seats and the party’s majority in the state Senate and four seats in the House of Delegates revealed a weakness at the top, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli and Del. Bob Marshall told The Examiner Thursday.

“I think this party needs new leadership from top to bottom,” said Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax. He plans to be part of a challenge at the leadership elections Nov. 26 against current Senate Majority Leader Walter Stosch.

Stosch is looking weak right now. Not only must he, as former Senate Majority Leader, assume some responsibility for the loss of four seats, his willingness to play ball with retiring Sen. John Chichester, R-Northumberland, on tax and budget issues alienated a large segment of the voters back home. Despite his long-term incumbency and elevated status in the General Assembly hierarchy, he barely fought off a tough primary challenge by Joe Blackburn last summer.

I don’t follow Senate backroom politics very closely at all, but it doesn’t take a Larry Sabato (or a Not Larry Sabato) to note that the make-up of the Republican caucus will look very different this year. Gone are several bona fide members of the Axis of Taxes: Chichester, Russell Potts, R-Winchester, Marty Williams, R-Newport News, and Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, R-Vienna. Although Chichester will be replaced by a hand-picked moderate, no one can replace his commanding presence in the Senate.

However the dust-up between Cuccinelli, Marshall and Stosch transpires, we will see a very different GOP in the General Assembly. Three predictions:

(1) The 19-person Republican caucus will become significantly more conservative on issues relating to taxes and government spending. As such, it will become much more closely aligned with the fiscal conservatives in the House of Delegates.

(2) The GOP in the General Assembly will present a more unified face on tax-and-spending issues, in marked departure to the fractious years of the Chichester era, in which genuine conservatives like House Speaker William J. Howell made compromises on tax-and-spending decisions that badly tarnished the GOP’s brand of fiscal conservatism.

(3) Republicans will present voters with a much clearer alternative to the Democrats than they did over the past six years. After years of bitter infighting and compromise, which blurred ideological distinctions and positioned Democrats as the party of responsible, effective leadership in government, the GOP could emerge reinvigorated.

Those predictions may be no more than wishful thinking. As a former Republican who abandoned the party, which I felt had abandoned me, I may be yearning for the good old days. Meanwhile, I still worry that Republicans, like the Democrats, are captive to special business interests. (See my comments in “Who Rules Virginia?”) Also, I am terrified that a reinvigorated GOP may get more militant on culture-war issues that I regard as a distraction to the more pressing challenges of meeting the challenges of globalization and the emerging Knowledge Economy. Still, a guy can always hope, can’t he?

Update: More pressure on Stosch. SWAC Girl notes that Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has joined the ranks of those calling for a change in Senate leadership. In a Nov. 13 letter, he wrote:

Since I joined the Senate, our leadership has consistently divided Republican ranks. Examples abound, including doing battle with House Republicans, dissolving the joint Republican Legislative Caucus, the functional dissolution of the Senate Republican Caucus and the establishment of the Republican Senate Leadership Trust.

It is imperative that we immediately refocus our attention on the ideas that brought the Republican Party to power in the 1990s. We must look for common ground, not just with a majority of our colleagues in the Senate, but also with our colleagues in the House. Towards that end, we must immediately move to reestablish the Joint Republican Legislative Caucus.

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9 responses to “Republican Realignment in the Post-Chichester Era”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Moderate Republicans are being voted out of office by blue-leaning voters who want them replaced by much more conservative leadership.

    what part of the above statement is wrong?

    Is the conventional wisdom that if blue-leaning places like NoVa would vote for fiscally conservative challengers over what the Dems are offering?

    Do folks think that the margin of victory would have been much larger for Chichesters seat if the challenger was much more conservative than Stuart?

    What about Jo Anne Davis’s seat?

    Who among the other challengers would have fit the mold that is espoused – i.e. a fiscal conservative … sans a hard right “values” agenda.

    that – that seat would have been turned over to the Dems if a hard-right had run.

    I think the same is true about Jo Anne Davis’s seat. If the GOP chose a hard-right to run – they would have handed over yet another seat.


    Is the idea that a GOP challenger who is fiscally conservative but not hard right on “values” can beat the Dems?

    Do some folks feel that if such a person ran for Chichesters seat that the GOP would have piled up even better numbers?

    Who among those that did vote would have switched their votes?

    OR… is the idea that folks stayed home that would not have stayed home if there had been a “better” GOP candidate?

    So… perhaps the real question is – “does Virginia really want fiscal conservative leadership without the hard right social flavoring?

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, Did you address those comments to my post, or did you just use the post as the jumping off point for a riff of your own?

    If it’s a response to my post, please note that I made no predictions of future GOP electoral success. My point is that the political dynamic within the General Assembly will change, and as that change sinks into the electorate, perceptions of the GOP will change.

    I have no sense whatsoever for electoral outcomes.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, Back to your very last question, “Does Virginia really want fiscal conservative leadership without the hard right social flavoring?” — I think that is a good question. I believe that’s exactly what a majority of the Virginia electorate does want.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “Larry, Did you address those comments to my post, or did you just use the post as the jumping off point for a riff of your own?

    Jim, it was my attempt to paraphrase what I thought I heard your post say.

    several posts recently have asserted that what voters really want is more conservative leadership…

    and on the face of it, to some folks like myself, this seems a paradox… as places like NoVa are tending blue these days.

    Is the thinking that the trend in NoVa.. actually REVERSE if “better” GOP candidates would run?

    Is the “blue” trend really a repudiation of the conservative social right?

    If the fiscal conservatives essentially recast themselves as desiring to govern from the “middle”, do they re-energize?

    I realize that such questions are precisely about politics AND religion so some fireworks answers are to be expected.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Larry, the point I’ve tried to make repeatedly is that the GOP, if it wants to reverse its fortunes, needs to do three things: (1) be fiscally conservative while (2) devising innovative solutions to Virginia’s real challenges in education, health care, transportation, the environment, economic development and efficiency in government, and (3) don’t alienate an essentially socially moderate electorate.

    Just-say-no-to-taxes is not philosophy of governance, and the electorate is smart enough to understand that. The GOP has to “say no to taxes” while also outlining serious proposals for addressing Virginia’s challenges by approaching them in fresh and original ways. More restructuring, re-engineering and reinventing government, less throwing money at government.

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Jim: You hit the nail on the head in your last comment.

    It may or may not be that too many elected Republican leaders are captive of special interests… or a different way of describing the same phenomenology is to say – they are corrupted by power – and the privileges and wealth they control.

    We have too many Republicans in the House and the Senate who are Republicans only as their means to power. They wouldn’t know a principle if they tripped over one. They know how to get elected – and that is to their credit. They just have no clue how to govern.

    Jim, I think we may get some good corrections in the body politic in 09. It may take to 2011 to get a Republican party that you might be interested in re-joining, if it happens at all.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    The GOP needs to be able to say “no” to a lobbyist. What if, after Kaine’s election, the GOP would have promptly enacted a statute authorizing cities and counties to adopt adequate public facilities ordinances, upon the vote of the citizens? What if they would have scheduled hearings to review the Governor’s progress in implementing the Wilder Commission’s recommendations? What if they would have passed legislation to provide additional funding for public schools and universities that reduced their non-instructional costs by a reasonable target? What if they would have made the regional transportation authorities elected positions?

    The Richmond lobbyists would be angry, but the GOP would have not only retained control of the General Assembly, but probably would have picked up a couple of seats in NoVA.


  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    (1) be fiscally conservative while

    (2) devising innovative solutions to Virginia’s real challenges in education, health care, transportation, the environment, eeconomic development and efficiency in government, and

    (3) don’t alienate an essentially socially moderate electorate.”

    oh I agree – completely but I do wonder what the party leadership is doing ..cuz it does not appear to be these 3 things…

    (3) is the classic “don’t shoot yourself in the foot” strategy.. or more bluntly – “don’t be stupid” ESPECIALLY for the next generation.

    (1) is a good ethic, always popular with all ethnic groups

    (2) takes a leader… who knows how the heck government works (and does not) AND is willing to not only “tolerate” but “reach out”.

    You don’t need 3 out of 3 to win unless the guy you up against has all 3 also – in which case – it’s a win-win for citizens.

  9. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    Gee – perhaps refraining from ignoring the voters might be a good idea too?

    In Tidewater/HR we has a HUGE regional debate over SB-668 (father of HB 3202). This question was placed on the ballot.

    Lobbyists and the Hampton Roads Partership business cabal spend millions to bang the drum for their taxpayer funded pork plan.

    The voters went to the balllot box ans said “NO!”, by a two to one margin.

    So what does the GOP controlled House & Senate do?

    The rasie taxes a few sessions and then they turn around and pass HB 3202 – with even more taxes, more fees, and with tolls everywhere – tolls to be decided upon by an all-appointed, citizen-hostile, regional government misnamed as an “authority”.

    Gee … I wonder why the lost so bad in Tidewater/HR???

    Just to add fuel to the fire – for YEARS local conservatives tried to offer better solutions and better funding strategies – and a better mix of transportation improvement – but the GOP controlled General Assembly arrogantly refuses to give such alternatives any consideration.

    It appeared to the voters that paid attention that the fix was in – and always had been.

    We therefore correctly concluded that we had a GOP leadership that had no problem advancing taxation without any real representation.

    This revealed the GOP willingness to have special interest lobbies dictate the people’s business.

    Gosh, I really want to vote for a poltical party that acts like that . . . yeah, sure, I’ll work the polls and walk neighborhood to support THOSE GUYS . . . um, sure, here – take more of my money – so you can run mud racking TV commercials that offer little in the way of a positive message regarding what GOP candidates will actually do to lower taxes, streamline government (not grow it with all-appoiinted regional government), and hey, how about the plan to relieve traffic congestion at the HRBT? What plan is that, BTW? And how will THAT be paid for?

    Ops – don’t know. Clearly that wasn’t important enough to merit any attention by the GOP.

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