- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 11, 2007

Reports of the death of the Republican Party in Northern Virginia are greatly exaggerated, party activists were told Thursday night at the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee’s 2007 Election Kick-Off.

About 140 attendees were reminded that despite the November election that saw Democrat James H. Webb Jr. knock off Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen, largely on the strength of Mr. Webb’s large margins in the close-in Washington suburbs, three special elections have been held in Prince William County, and all three were won by Republicans.

“We can win in Northern Virginia,” 11th District Republican Committee Chairman Becky Stoeckel reassured the gathering, despite two consecutive losses in gubernatorial races in which Northern Virginia was critical to the Democrats’ wins. She cited the victories in two Prince William Board of County Supervisors races and a special election to serve out the remainder of the term of longtime state Delegate Harry J. Parrish, Manassas Republican, who died last year at 84.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who in November easily won a seventh term representing Virginia’s 11th District in Congress, which encompasses most of Fairfax County and parts of Prince William, agreed. He noted that Prince William Democrats had counted on winning at least one of those races, so they are having what he called a “big bloodletting” as a result.

But Mr. Davis cautioned the crowd at the Fairview Park Marriott Hotel that “Democrats are going to be well-funded” and that “Northern Virginia is ground zero” in their efforts to retake control of the General Assembly, with all 140 of the seats up for election in November. “We’re not going to let that happen,” he said.

The keynote speaker at the event, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Ed Gillespie, called the next three years “the grand slam of Virginia politics.” In addition to this fall’s General Assembly races, Mr. Gillespie said, Virginia’s other U.S. Senate seat is up for election in 2008, and “it’s important that we hold onto that seat,” whether five-term Republican Sen. John W. Warner runs for re-election or not.

In 2009, said Mr. Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, Democrats will be seeking to win the governorship for the third time in a row. “We just can’t have that,” he said.

As for Democrats’ threats to turn Virginia into a blue state, he said, “The only thing that’s going to be blue are our Democratic [opponents].”

The Thursday event grossed more than $12,000, Ms. Stoeckel said, with the proceeds to go to the party’s 2007 legislative candidates.

• Losing momentum

Marion Barry’s gun bill is beginning to lose some of its bang.

Mr. Barry, a Democrat who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council, introduced a bill last week that would stiffen the penalties for owning an unregistered gun in the District but allow residents to register pistols for a specified 90-day period.

The bill — which would temporarily loosen the District’s 30-year ban on handguns — initially had the co-sponsorship of three other council members: Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat; Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat; and Kwame R. Brown, at-large Democrat.

But once the council members realized just what it was they were supporting, two of them backed out.

Mr. Graham, who said he signed onto the bill from the council dais because of its stiffer penalties for gun offenses, determined that the 90-day open-registration period was too troubling to support.

“The reason I went on was because of the increased penalties for possession, which I definitely support,” Mr. Graham said, noting that when he further studied the bill, the amnesty period became apparent.

Mr. Wells also has withdrawn his name as a co-sponsor.

Mr. Brown, a Barry ally on the council, is apparently sticking to his, well, guns.

His name is still listed online as a co-sponsor of the bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

• California dreamin’

Three D.C. Council members have introduced legislation aimed at cleaning up the District’s air by mandating that cars sold or registered in the city comply with standards set in California for low emissions.

“Everyone supports clean air, but we need to do more,” said Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors. “We must enact progressive legislation.”

The Clean Cars Act of 2007, which is also sponsored by council members Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells, would help the D.C. area meet federal requirements for ozone.

The Washington area is currently in danger of failing to meet the 2009 federal deadline for clean air.

According to the American Lung Association, 2,400 persons with respiratory-related diseases are sent to the hospital during a typical D.C. summer. About 130,000 persons each summer suffer asthma attacks, and the association has given the District’s air quality an “F.”

The D.C. bill is patterned after legislation pending in Maryland. Eleven other states have adopted California’s emissions standards.

“The problem is well-defined and clean air is not just a hope, it’s a necessity,” Mr. Mendelson said.

• Evading history

Calling the way Americans elect presidents unfair and outdated, a Maryland state senator has proposed sidestepping the Electoral College.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, Montgomery Democrat, has sponsored a bill giving Maryland’s 10 electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, not the candidate who wins Maryland. He hopes the proposal would encourage other states to abandon the Electoral College and move to a national popular vote.

“The Electoral College is obsolete in the 21st century,” said Mr. Raskin, a law professor at American University in the District who has published arguments to abandon the Electoral College. “It just doesn’t fit. It tramples on the idea of majority rule.”

Mr. Raskin said similar ideas are being floated in most states, though none has adopted it. California lawmakers approved the plan, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. Last month, the Colorado Senate approved the idea, and a committee in the Hawaii Senate signed off on it Tuesday.

If Maryland approves Mr. Raskin’s idea, it could be the first to attempt to abandon the Electoral College without changing the U.S. Constitution. The idea is that if states award their electors to the winner of the national popular vote, the popular vote winner would automatically win the election and a constitutional amendment wouldn’t be required.

If it had been in effect in 2004, Mr. Raskin’s bill would have meant that Maryland electors would have gone to President Bush, not Democratic Sen. John Kerry, who got 56 percent of Maryland’s vote.

Supporters say enhancing the impact of the popular-vote idea could give Maryland a more prominent role in presidential contests. Candidates spend much of their time in states that are considered battleground states, such as Ohio and Florida. In 2004, only Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards visited Maryland in the general campaign.

“The presidential race in Maryland is a spectator sport,” said Ryan O’Donnell of National Popular Vote, a group pushing for the change.

Not everyone thinks it’s a good idea to abandon the Electoral College, though. University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato told the Baltimore Sun that one advantage to the college is that recounts are only statewide affairs, not national ones.

“It’s inevitable we’re going to have another squeaker election, and we’d be asking for it in that sense,” he told the newspaper.

Gary Emerling and Peter Parisi contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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