- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2001

Democrat Mark R. Warner continued to court new constituencies in his bid for the governorship of Virginia, announcing a policy yesterday to create opportunities for disabled Virginians.
He proposed taking advantage of federal grants that would allow disabled individuals to work without losing Medicaid coverage, suggested helping some disabled residents move from state institutions to community living, and promised to appoint disabled individuals to state positions.
"As governor, I will do all I can to provide the leadership that will open up the doors of opportunity to all Virginians, regardless of their disability," said Mr. Warner, an Alexandria businessman, at a news conference with a group of disabled individuals outside Alexandria City Hall.
The most specific, and potentially most controversial, part of his plan calls for making the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities (DRVD) independent. Currently, the agency — which is charged with monitoring and enforcing disability-access laws and which provides help for both the mentally and physically disabled — is under the Secretary of Administration.
"The fact that a state agency is responsible for monitoring other state agencies creates inherent conflict," Mr. Warner said, adding that 40 other states have independent agencies.
Mr. Warner's Republican opponent in November, former state Attorney General Mark L. Earley, also supports making the DRVD independent, his campaign said, with a board to oversee the agency, but not to micromanage the day-to-day operations.
That puts both men at odds with Mr. Gilmore, the current Republican governor, who vetoed a bill to make the agency independent.
Lila White, a spokeswoman for the governor, said he vetoed the bill because an independent DRVD wouldn't be accountable to anyone.
Mr. Gilmore moved the department out of the Health and Human Services secretariat to the Administration secretariat, which, Mrs. White said, gives the department independence while keeping it ultimately accountable to the governor.
Mr. Warner's plan for the disabled is his most recent effort to attract constituencies that campaigns don't often reach out to specifically. He has also announced plans for preserving open space and delivering safe drinking water to Southwestern Virginia.
A group of disabled residents, calling themselves Virginians with Disabilities for Warner, has been formed to work toward getting Mr. Warner elected. They are led by Jim Rothrock, former DRVD director under Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. Mr. Warner said 1 in 6 Virginians have some type of disability.
Future announcements will cover issues like mental health and affordable housing, he and his campaign said. Mr. Warner has also made several policy announcements about standard fare like education.
By contrast, Mr. Earley, in his policy "roll-outs," has focused on items like tax cuts and education — traditional issues that gave Mr. Gilmore his victory in 1997.

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