- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

RICHMOND| - Two Republicans who last year lead state government’s budget-writing committees on Monday endorsed Mark Warner, a Democrat, for Senate.

Former Delegate Vincent F. Callahan and former state Sen. John H. Chichester, both Northern Virginia, said they’re backing Mr. Warner because of how he handled a state budget crisis six years ago.

They said the Republican nominee, former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, led the state into a fiscal crisis by presenting rosy economic forecasts as Virginia slid into a recession in 2001.

Mr. Callahan and Mr. Chichester praised Mr. Warner, who was Mr. Gilmore’s successor as governor, for his handling of the budget shortfall that eventually grew to nearly $6 billion.

Mr. Gilmore has challenged that version of events, saying Mr. Warner, with the acquiescence of some Republican legislators, concocted a “myth” by embellishing the shortfall to aid passage of $1.4 billion tax increase in 2004.

“We need to remind voters that after Mark Warner did the $1.4 billion tax increase …they found a surplus for an even greater amount than that - $1.5 billion,” said Gilmore campaign spokeswoman Ana Gamonal. “Rather than return that money to Virginia working families, Mark Warner spent that tax hike money and spent that surplus.”

Driven by federal homeland security spending in Virginia and wild growth in real estate markets, state general fund tax collections in Mr. Warner’s final year, 2005, finished $1 billion ahead of the revenue anticipated in the budget adopted in early 2004. However, the actual surplus was $544 million.

Mr. Chichester and Mr. Callahan said they are still Republicans and will remain so in the presidential race by supporting Sen. John McCain.

They have at times been mavericks within their party, and both have criticized what they said is the Virginia Republican Party’s slide to the right.

“It’s extremely distressing that they’re on the path they’re taking and where it is heading,” Mr. Callahan said.

He also said the party is bent on becoming “a minority debating society.”

“We can’t be a party of immigrant bashing and gay bashing or any other kind of bashing,” Mr. Callahan said.

Noting Mr. Warner’s wide early lead in independent polling, Mr. Chichester said the Virginia Republican Party appears headed for a painful reckoning this fall.

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