Virginia Pundit Watch

Will Vehrs



Virginia’s Budget: Historic and Trend-Setting


The early pundit reactions to Virginia’s budget deal are in. The budget adopted Friday represented a potentially historic political shift away from anti-tax sentiment. Other states may soon follow Virginia’s model, representing a new attitude toward financing government functions. 


Of course, in a few weeks other pundits will tell us the deal was aberration and other states will reject the new taxes that Virginia legislators accepted.


Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, perhaps too wistfully, compared the 2004 deal to the 1954 budget deal that demonstrated the first cracks in Byrd machine that had dominated Virginia politics for generations. He speculated that this budget deal might mark the decline of anti-tax forces.


In the Daily Press, Hugh Lessig and Kimball Payne discussed the possible “ripple effect” of the Virginia deal on Kansas and Texas, states where some Republicans are breaking ranks with anti-tax advocates. The Virginia experience could embolden those Republicans flirting with raising revenue — or it could rouse anti-tax forces to fight harder than they did in the Old Dominion.


Gordon Morse avoided drawing grand conclusions and looked at the message of the pro- and anti-tax leaders to explain the result. In the Washington Post, he compared Governor Warner’s approach to that of the Republicans


Warner hit the bricks -- easel and flip charts tucked under his arm -- and went from community to community …Warner made his case without acrimony and insult.” In contrast, Republican office-holders and operatives laced their statements with hyperbole and invective. Every tax proposal was a "massive" tax increase; every variance with the status quo threatened to cripple Virginia's "working class men and women."


Pointedly, Morse noted the “rummaging in the pork trough” of two leading anti-taxers, asking, "Do these Republican leaders understand that to effectively challenge the governor's credibility it might help to have some themselves?”


How aroused are Virginians over the budget deal? On the day that the tax deal was announced, the Washington Post’s Marc Fisher had to pull a reaction from his online readers.  They were much more interested in the case of Alexandria School Superintendent Rebecca Perry.  She kept her job in this era of zero tolerance despite an arrest for drunken driving.


Warning Label on a Fresh Voice


A conservative columnist is now regularly writing in the Roanoke Times, an op-ed page sorely in need of that viewpoint. He is Ed Lynch, an associate professor of political science at Hollins University. Sample analysis: “There would not have been any serious talk about a tax increase if Virginia had a Republican governor, or indeed, if we had a Democratic governor less concerned with his own national ambitions.” Lynch’s column comes with the disclaimer that his opinions are not necessarily those of Hollins University, a disclaimer rarely seen when other educational institution employees write in the Times.


Strong Words


Tracy Thorne, an attorney representing Equality Virginia, a gay and lesbian rights organization, had harsh words for the actions of the 2004 General Assembly. Writing in the Washington Post, she called the Marriage Affirmation Act passed by the Assembly “21st-century apartheid, Virginia style.” She ended her piece with a passionate plea:


Are we, as a commonwealth, ready to write another chapter in our history of intolerance? Will we accept the simple truth that gays are deserving of fundamental human rights or will we once again rush to the parapets to defend the commonwealth against enlightenment?


Strange Timing


As the nation grappled with a monstrous prison scandal in Iraq, the pages of the Roanoke Times debated conditions in Virginia’s prisons. Jean Butler, a school employee, bemoaned the lack of hot meals in prison and wrote, “If you can tell a lot about a society by the way it conducts its prisons, we Virginians are in a lot of trouble.” J. Granger Macfarlane, a former state Democratic State Senator and former Chairman of the Board for the Department of Corrections, made an even more serious charge.  Saying that he had tried to implement “new ideas,” he wrote:


Neither the governor, the senior administrative staff of the secretary of public safety nor the senior corrections liaison advisers from the office of the attorney general had the slightest interest in making any positive changes that would produce reform and save very large amounts of money for the commonwealth.


Two Corridors, Two Solutions


Kevin Coates, a transportation consultant and specialist in “Maglev” (magnetic levitation) technology, wondered why Metro officials were pursuing “outdated and underperforming transportation” solutions for a route from Falls Church to Dulles Airport. In a Washington Post piece, he made the case for maglev.  It would offer 10 minute trips, have less impact on the right-of-way, and would cut maintenance costs in half. Meanwhile, in the Roanoke Times, Randolph Gregg called for passenger rail service along the I-81 corridor.


Secretary of Poetry


An op-ed from one of Governor Warner’s cabinet secretaries is fairly common, but a poem is something rare. Secretary of Commerce and Trade Michael Schewel entered A. Barton Hinkle’s poet laureate contest in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and had at least an excerpt published, including such images as “burnished business towers” and “burdened clouds.”


Shameless Self-Promotion


Speaking of Hinkle, he furthered his Renaissance Man-as-pundit credentials by devoting a column to weblogs. He revealed that he regularly reads Bacon’s Rebellion, including “Virginia Pundit Watch, the bloggiest feature on the site.”  All pundits should be so discriminating…


-- May 10, 2004














Will Vehrs grew up in Prince William County. He has a degree in American history from the College of William and Mary and an MBA from Chapman University. Will's experience includes a stint with a Fortune 500 company and economic development work in state government. His "Punditwatch" column appears on and Jewish World Review, as well as on his own Punditwatch website. He also writes for the Quasipundit political site.