Republicans Finally Squabbling with Democrats Instead of Each Other

As the budget-making drama unfolds in the General Assembly, we’re seeing a very different political dynamic at work. In contrast to past years, in which Republicans tore themselves to shreds, Elephant Clan senators and delegates appear to be acting with common purpose. The party conceivably could emerge stronger than when Elephants ruled the chamber under the leadership of nominal Republican John Chichester.

The evidence for change can be seen in what Tyler Whitley and Jeff Schapiro are billing in today’s Times-Dispatch as “a revolt” of the state Senate’s Republican minority. In a departure from the Senate’s traditional “bipartisan comity,” they write, seven Republicans on the 16-member Senate Finance Committee opposed the Democrats’ proposed revisions to the two-year, $78 billion budget submitted by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine.

In contrast to previous years, in which a Chichester-dominated Republican caucus warred with the Republican House caucus, Elephant Clan senators are aligning themselves closely this year with their counterparts in the House. Arguably, Republicans have as much power now as when they supposedly controlled both chambers. As Whitley/Schapiro paraphrases Sen. Charles J. Colgan, D-Prince William: Without bipartisan backing for the Senate version of the budget, the Dems will have little leverage against House negotiators in cobbling a compromise budget.

Most interesting is the change in Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, once an ally of Chichester and, like him, a frequent advocate of higher taxes. Now Wampler maintains that the state should cut state agency budgets by six percent instead of raiding the Rainy Day fund and expanding the pre-K program. Chastened by conservative unrest during last year’s primaries and freed from the Rasputin-like influence of Chichester, Republican senators appear to be taking up the banner of fiscal conservatism.

The result of this realignment could be the emergence of the Elephant Clan as a genuine spend-less, tax-less party. But the Republicans have a long road to travel before than can rightfully claim that mantle. Until they repudiate the shyster-like mechanisms for raising new transportation funds that they enacted last year — increasing a wide variety of taxes, fees and fines by small amounts in obscure places in the hope that no one would really notice — they won’t deserve to be taken seriously.

Hiking the gas tax, favored by Senate Democrats, is a far preferable mechanism for raising revenue. The tax is easy to administer, it is transparent, and it encourages people to drive less, thus incrementally reducing the demand for additional improvements. Only when Republicans fully embrace the principles of tax transparency, efficiency and user-pays, will I believe they’ve had a genuine change of heart.

Update: Seth McLaughlin confirms this analysis in today’s Washington Times.

It’s no longer House Republicans versus Senate Republicans. It’s Republicans versus Democrats. “The dynamics are different now,” J. Scott Leake, spokesman for Senate Republicans, told The Washington Times. “You have a divided Senate and united House.”

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    My two gas tax questions remain: How much would Fairfax County residents pay? How much would be returned to the county?


  2. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: TMT’s question

    The good news is that Fairfax would get every penny they put into it – back.

    The Bad news is that the State would reduce the amount Fairfax got back for Education by the same amount.


    Apparently your NVTA thinks it will ya’ll will get something back.. because here we are one year after you got your TA.. and Bob Chase and the NVTA have been lobbying for the State-wide gas tax.

    After they build the HOT lanes, ya’ll are going to have so much extra money .. you won’t be able to find enough projects to spend it all on…


  3. Anonymous Avatar


    Senate erupts in partisan fight over spending plan

    Monday, Feb 18, 2008 – 02:05 PM


    A partisan firefight erupted on the floor of the Virginia state Senate today over the Republican refusal to endorse the Senate version of the state budget.

    Sen. Charles J. Colgan, D-Prince William, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said the partisan split over the budget is “almost disastrous” in its effect on the Senate’s ability to win concessions from the House in approaching talks on a compromise budget.

    Colgan said he hoped some Republicans would line up behind the budget before a Senate floor vote Thursday. “The budget is above politics . . . It’s our most important work,” Colgan said.

    The ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, Sen. William Wampler Jr. of Bristol, said the GOP can’t support a budget that drains about $420 million from the rainy-day fund while putting new money into programs such as expanded pre-K for 4-year-olds.

    That brought a testy rebuke from Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania. His voice dripping in sarcasm, Houck said “It takes a lot of guts to start kicking around those poor 4-year-old children. That’s political leadership!”

    Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, complained that Republicans had little input in preparing revisions to the current budget and a fiscal plan for the two-year spending cycle that begins July 1.

    “This is not our budget,” Norment said.

    On Sunday, the seven Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee voted against the panel’s spending recommendations. That could portend that all 19 Senate Republicans oppose the budget later this week.

    Democrats have a slender majority in the Senate — only one seat — and depend on Republicans to back the budget, giving the chamber’s proposals momentum for budget reconciliation talks with the Republican-controlled House.

    Contact Jeff E. Schapiro at (804) 649-6814 or

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry – that sounds like a typical legislative package that would sail along with strong Fairfax County support!

    Bob Chase and his NVTA don’t give a rat’s ___ about equity for Fairfax County residents. The sole goal is advance the pace of real estate development. If more buidling can ocurr with Fairfax residents receiving 20 cents on the dollar, that’s a good deal to Chase.

    Development is too often Satan in Fairfax County.


  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    With regard to the dust-up in the Senate Finance Committee.

    Well… a good thing.. perhaps is that there are disagreements on the merits at least as much as there is partisan Crappola… although you do have to wonder about the R’s timing…

    but… I think Kaine’s approach has merit also.

    He wants to hold off on some school construction – at a time when there is a housing slump… is that wrong?

    He wants to put more money in pre-K when it’s pretty much proven than Pre-K “works” and leads to better academic results – right?

    and he wants to pull some money from the rainy day fund.. when we are having the economic equivalent of a …..”rainy day”.

    I could sign on to the R’s approach also.. though… in that.. at a time when revenues are not flush… should we pull money out of the rainy day fund to .. spin up new programs?

    In other words, if we put on pre-k initiatives do we still need to tap the rainy-day fund?

    but you know… we did have a Gov from the R side… who was stubborn about his ‘legacy’ even in the face of economic upheaval… right?

  6. Good article by Jim Bacon. Aren’t we all better off when there are two sides with clearly identified objectives? The Republicans want to cut spending, defer programs, etc. The Democrats want to keep the programs, raise taxes and remain “progresive”.

    The voters get a clear choice.

    And, my nominee for the BaconsRebellion quote of the month (from TMT):

    Development is too often Satan in Fairfax County.

    Yes, indeed. In the interest of truth in advertising many Fairfax County (and NoVA) politicians should be required to have “666” tatooed on their foreheads.

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