- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Their legislative offices are roughly 15 feet apart, and their popularity in Stafford County tops the charts.

But their views on how to fix the state’s transportation network and cater to the needs of their shared constituency are as far as Arlington is from Bristol, Va.

Sen. John H. Chichester and House Speaker William J. Howell are the leaders of the state Republican Party’s warring factions on roads, but represent the same constituency, which appears to be split on taxes.

Mr. Chichester says that his constituents want long-term transportation improvements and that raising taxes is the way to get it done.

“We have the tools. All we need is the resolve to allow users of the system to pay for the system,” he said earlier this year.

Mr. Howell says the voters who elected him oppose tax increases. With the “booming economy” and the state’s budget surplus, “going back to the hard-working people of Virginia for higher taxes is not the answer,” he said earlier this year.

“They are arguably the two most powerful elected people in the state legislature, representing the same district and are speaking from two different sides,” said Bob Hunt, chairman of the Republican Party of Stafford County. “The real interesting part about it is they are both very popular.

“I think John Chichester sincerely thinks we need a cash infusion to fix transportation,” said Mr. Hunt, who opposes the senator’s plan. “And Mr. Howell, I think, sincerely thinks money alone will not solve the problem.”

Such a massive philosophical divide didn’t always exist between the two lawmakers who have been friends for nearly 30 years.

“If you go back to 1991, when the Republican slogan was 51 in ‘91 — which means we were trying to get a majority in ‘91 — one of the main platforms was that we were not going to raise taxes,” said John Van Hoy, former Republican Party chairman in Stafford. “Senator Chichester was a part of that, and so was Delegate Howell.”

Mr. Chichester, who has served in the Senate since 1978, has developed into the state’s leading tax maverick over the years.

Some say the transformation began after he lost his bid for lieutenant governor to L. Douglas Wilder in 1985. Others say the senator changed when he began pawing over the state’s bank accounts as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in the mid-1990s.

Still, some say his maturation is simply symbolic of the split that surfaced in the Republican Party in the aftermath of former Gov. James S. Gilmore III’s car-tax relief program.

“The original promise of the Gilmore car-tax cut was that it wouldn’t hurt services,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington. “Turns out, there was pain that came from that.

“In many ways, you have these lawmakers being torn,” Mr. Farnsworth added. “Many of them come out of anti-tax movements, but at the same time, there is a lot of development pressure.”

Mr. Howell, who has served in the House since 1988, has remained true to his fiscal conservatism, pushing for less government and less state spending.

“His roots are in the Republican Party, and he is just one of us,” Mr. Hunt said.

The stance helped Mr. Howell gain respect of his caucus and secure the House speaker post in 2003, after former House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., a Republican, resigned amid claims that he had paid a young woman to settle sexual-harassment accusations.

Mr. Chichester and Mr. Howell have been at the forefront since Republicans won control of the legislature in 2000.

In 2004, Mr. Howell and Senate leaders dissolved the Joint Republican Caucus, which used to strategize and raise money for the Republican Party in both chambers.

That year, a partnership between Mr. Chichester and former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, helped persuade 17 House Republicans to vote for the largest tax increase in state history.

This year, Mr. Chichester’s budget hopes fall in line with those of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who says that he has a cordial relationship with the senator and Mr. Howell, but that his “philosophy on how to solve those issues is just closer to Senator Chichester.”

Still, both men say they will continue to fight in the name of their similar constituencies — a cross-section of voters who make up one of fastest-growing areas in the nation.

“It’s a real mixture of long-standing residents deeply rooted in the community, and a lot of transit types that work in the Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.,” said Mark J. Rozell, professor of public policy at George Mason University.

Mr. Rozell said he thinks their dichotomy simply has to do with the passage of time.

“These were your run-of-the-mill local politicians,” he said. “They established credible brand names and became recognized among their constituency. I think it’s more an accident of geography. There is no logical reason why it worked out that way, other than each man reached a level of prominence on their own tone.”

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