Preparing for the party fight
By Jerry Fuhrman
It's high noon in the OK Corral. The Clanton gang looks warily upon its foe. The desperados array themselves tactically opposite Wyatt Earp and his deputies. All have loaded their weapons and are preparing for the epic gunfight. The outcome of this battle, very much in doubt, will determine who controls Tombstone.
To better understand the epic duel, think of the commonwealth of Virginia as Tombstone, the state legislature as the OK Corral, and the Clanton gang as the Democrats. Now think of the Republicans opposite them -- Wyatt Earp and his deputies -- being hog-tied, muzzled, bleeding profusely from previous encounters, with broken legs and arms, nearly blinded, and with delirium and fever having set in. And they're low on ammunition. Oh, and half the Earp posse has gone over to the Clanton side.
Welcome to the Big Transportation Funding Debate -- 2007.
The nature of this larger-than-life face-off probably began when former Gov. Mark Warner succeeded in pulling a handful of spineless Republicans over to his side to end the education funding debate in 2004, an act of cowardice on their part that resulted in a massive tax increase being foisted upon the people of Virginia and levels of improvement in our education system being ... well, they really didn't change at all. But that's for another day.
Then came Republican Jerry Kilgore's trouncing in the governor's race last year. An avowed conservative, Kilgore's message, convoluted though it became, by all accounts never resonated with the people of Northern Virginia (though he remained wildly popular in all other regions of the state) and he was defeated handily by a temporarily conservative foe who took away Kilgore's thunder by vowing to not raise taxes under any circumstances.
Which brings us to Gov. Tim Kaine's tax increase proposal of 2006. Though smarting from Kilgore's loss and the betrayal of formerly stalwart Republicans in the previous tax hike wars, party loyalists, led by Roanoke's Morgan Griffith and his band of courageous House delegates, did what was seemingly impossible: They stopped a powerful and influential bloc, referred to famously as the "axis of taxes," comprised of senators of both parties, Democrat House members, the mainstream press, public school and university administrators, and every other group in the state with a hand in your pocket, in their tracks. Because of their valiant efforts, the people of Virginia were spared another massive tax increase in 2006 that would have followed close on Warner's massive tax increase of 2004.
Then came Sen. George Allen's shocking loss last month, followed by recriminations within the party and the obligatory soul searching:
"We've lost touch with the people of Northern Virginia." "We haven't taken into account the rapidly changing demographics in Northern Virginia." "We need to understand that 60 percent of the population growth in the commonwealth, much of it 'ethnic,' is in Northern Virginia." "Traditional family values are unimportant in Northern Virginia; education, transportation, and 'smart growth' are the important issues in Northern Virginia."
Northern Virginia, where Republicans and Democrats, male and female alike, old and young, white and black (and ethnic) unite in a grand desire to raise everyone's taxes beyond their means to resolve problems that citizens in the remainder of the state would give their eyeteeth to have, all relating to explosive growth and eye-popping economic prosperity.
You can see it coming. Republicans suddenly feel like they're on the ropes and there's only one way to get right with the people. Listen to Rep. Tom Davis's (R-Northern Va.) assessment to The Washington Post after the election:
"This is a challenge to our leaders in our legislature to find some common ground. The voters look at our legislature today and see the fighting between the different factions and say: 'Are we capable of governing?' That's going to be our challenge in 2007."
Translation: You knuckle-draggers in the party need to compromise or we're doomed.
So Morgan Griffith and his cohorts, Reagan conservatives in that fine tradition, the only elected officials remaining in office in the state of Virginia who remember the ones what brung 'em, are soon to begin assembling in the OK Corral for the fight of their lives. For the fight of our lives.
Bruised, battered, bloody, bandaged -- but not bowed -- they face a formidable foe.