- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2006

RICHMOND (AP) — Former Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III says he will explore a presidential bid in 2008.

Mr. Gilmore said the field of Republicans prospects for president is without a true conservative and that he will charter a federal committee in January so he can assess his chances in the race.

“There is not a committed conservative in the field who can put together a national campaign, said Mr. Gilmore, 57. “I am and I can. I have people on the ground right now in Iowa and in South Carolina.”

His comments were directed at such potential candidates as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and departing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. They also were directed at federal spending by the Republican administration and Congress.

“I am not someone who has to evolve as a conservative,” Mr. Gilmore said. “I don’t have to evolve my position.”

Mr. Gilmore was easily elected governor in 1997 on a promise to cut the property tax that local governments assess on personal cars and pickup trucks. He served one term and could not seek re-election because Virginia bars successive terms for governors.

The next year, the Democrat-controlled legislature enacted an incremental phaseout in which the state government reimburses city and county treasuries dollar-for-dollar for their sizable revenue losses.

Though the tax cut was popular, critics warned the cost of the reimbursements would create an enormous state spending program that would eventually wreck the state’s finances.

In 2001, after a recession ate into Virginia tax collections and with reimbursements to localities at roughly $700 million annually and increasing, Mr. Gilmore rebuffed the state Senate’s efforts to brake the car-tax phaseout.

The resulting legislative stalemate left Virginia unable to reconcile its budget for the first time, which helped Mark Warner, a Democrat, upset Republican Mark L. Earley, whom Mr. Gilmore had supported.

Mr. Warner also blamed Mr. Gilmore and the car tax for budget deficits that exceeded $6 billion in subsequent years.

Mr. Gilmore was among the earliest supporters of Texas Gov. George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. Mr. Bush rewarded Mr. Gilmore by appointing him chairman of the Republican National Committee. However, Mr. Gilmore left the job within a year, after disagreements with senior White House staff.

Mr. Gilmore becomes the third former Virginia governor to have expressed an interest in the 2008 presidential race.

Mr. Warner, who left office in January with high job approval ratings, withdrew from consideration in the presidential race in October, citing family obligations.

Sen. George Allen, governor from 1994 to 1998, was popular among the Republican Party’s conservative wing and regarded a serious prospect until his upset re-election loss last month to Democrat James H. Webb Jr.

Mr. Gilmore led a commission Congress appointed in 1999 to investigate the threat terrorism posed to the country.

The commission’s report — finished one week before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — included the recommends of creating a cabinet-level office to battle terrorism at home and that federal agencies should improve efforts to share intelligence.

He remains outspoken about the country’s readiness for terrorist attacks and major disasters.

He formed a nonprofit organization, the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness, and said in March the country still has no cohesive strategy for local, state and federal roles in managing overwhelming catastrophes.

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