- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2006

RICHMOND — Outgoing Gov. Mark Warner thinks President Bush and the U.S. Congress could learn some lessons from Virginia, such as lawmakers putting aside partisanship to get the job done.

The Democrat, who leaves office Saturday, said cooperation has led Virginia lawmakers to improve the state’s finances and enabled them to fund much-needed projects, such as the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

“In Washington, people are more interested in scoring partisan points than getting things done, and I think there is a real yearning in this country for action,” Mr. Warner told The Washington Times when asked about the partisan atmosphere in Washington.

“To a degree, both parties are guilty,” he said. “If it’s not absolutely their way, they say they’d rather have no action than their ideologically pure solutions. I think that’s crazy.”

In addition to discussing the national political stage on which he will debut soon, Mr. Warner reflected on the wins — and losses — he has experienced in the past four years leading up to his final week in elected office.

Mr. Warner, who became governor in 2002, had a rocky start with a Republican-controlled General Assembly that regularly tested his mettle. But most agree that Mr. Warner got his sea legs in his third year in office.

In 2004, he persuaded the majority of legislators, after a historic 115-day fight over the state budget, to pass a $1.38 billion tax increase that he says saved the state’s finances and ultimately led to Virginia’s being named the best-managed state in the nation by Governing magazine.

Despite shepherding through the largest tax increase in state history, Mr. Warner enjoys an approval rating of 75 percent or higher in most polls, the highest of any Virginia governor since firms began conducting such surveys.

Mr. Warner on Saturday will hand over the reins to Gov.-elect Timothy M. Kaine, his longtime friend and a Democrat who served as his lieutenant governor.

But Mr. Warner won’t fade into the sunset like some Virginia chief executives of years past. He is about to boost his national profile.

“I don’t think I’m going to be bored. … I’ll be taking a lot of trips and doing some political things around the country,” Mr. Warner told The Times at his Richmond office Friday.

Mr. Warner immediately will start working full time on his Northern Virginia-based political action committee called Forward Together. His goal for the PAC is to find and fund candidates who he thinks can move the nation forward.

The PAC has been making a name for itself.

Last month, Mr. Warner set a state record, raising $2.5 million at the PAC’s kickoff in McLean.

Mr. Warner said the PAC has donated to some candidates for governor and U.S. Congress.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls, who will leave state government to work with Mr. Warner at the PAC, said the list of those candidates would be available publicly when the PAC releases its 2005 filings.

“The requests are starting to pile in,” Mr. Warner said.

His friends and supporters have no doubt that the PAC is a first step toward Mr. Warner’s seeking the U.S. presidency in 2008.

Mr. Warner is using the money to travel the country, including taking trips to Manchester, N.H., Atlanta and Boston. He also will hold fundraisers in Los Angeles and San Diego.

Later this month, he will travel to London and to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

If Mr. Warner chooses to make a bid for the Oval Office, there is at least one major obstacle in his way — U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

“I think she’s very strong; she would be a formidable candidate,” he said of the former first lady.

When asked whether he would consider being the Democratic choice for vice president, a move some Democrats think would have a more successful end than seeking a presidential nomination, Mr. Warner said he’s not sure of his next step.

“I haven’t decided what, if anything, I am going to do in politics, I really haven’t,” he said.

Mr. Warner is proud of Mr. Kaine’s six-point win over Republican Jerry W. Kilgore in the fall, and he said he expects that Mr. Kaine will face plenty of challenges. The governor-elect has made transportation his priority.

Mr. Warner, barred by Virginia law from seeking a second consecutive term, said he knows it is time to step aside, though he is wistful about leaving.

“This job falls to Tim in eight days,” he said, “but I’m still willing to help.”

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