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IN OTHER WORDS: Norquist goes after Saslaw

- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 8, 2012

The indestructible force met the immovable object last week: Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate who presides over Americans for Tax Reform, dared to take on Virginia Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat.

Mr. Norquist was set off by Mr. Saslaw's comments about his pledge — that all-important taxpayer-protection pledge Mr. Norquist promotes that has been signed by so many Republicans and some Democrats vowing to oppose and vote against any efforts to raise taxes.

"I don't think any thinking person would sign that," Mr. Saslaw said in an interview with PBS affiliate WVPT-TV in Harrisonburg, Va. "The no-tax pledge in the House has prevented us from doing anything with roads, and pretty soon it's going to weigh on our ability to attract businesses to the commonwealth."

To which Mr. Norquist took exception, to say the least — claiming instead that it was higher taxes that would drive companies away from the state.

"Sen. Saslaw's latest tantrum is the result of him being unable to cobble together a tax increase on gasoline and soak the taxpayers of Virginia for more of their tax dollars," he said. "While Gov. Bob McDonnell is trying to promote economic growth in Virginia, Sen. Saslaw is busy trying to drive businesses out of the commonwealth with higher taxes."

For good measure, Mr. Norquist also chided some Senate Republicans who supported indexing the state's gas tax to inflation this year — namely Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. of James City, John C. Watkins of Powhatan, Harry B. Blevins of Chesapeake, Walter A. Stosch of Henrico, Frank M. Ruff Jr. of Fluvanna and Frank W. Wagner of Virginia Beach. That bill would have increased the state's 17.5-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline to 17.7 cents in the first year.

Chatting with Mr. Saslaw as budget negotiators finished their work Thursday, he didn't seem terribly perturbed by the prospect of being called out by Mr. Norquist. Never one to suffer fools, he long has been an unabashed advocate of increasing the gas tax to help pay for transportation projects in Virginia.

In fact, it's doubtful that anyone could get under Mr. Saslaw's skin, based on comments made during the legislative session when asked about Senate Democrats getting criticized for holding up the passage of a state budget.

"Can I tell you something?" he said. "My hide is so damn thick there isn't a person on this planet capable of insulting me."

On the ballot

Some Americans see voting as a sacred rite, a fundamental equalizer in which each citizen has one vote, one voice, no matter his or her social status. Candidates pledge to uphold their duties, and constituents repay them through a thoughtful vetting of each hopeful politician, right?

The District held its primary elections last Tuesday, and voter Janet Bryant could not find a Ward 7 candidate that suited her.

"I couldn't make a choice, and I wasn't going to be pushed into it," she said as she left the Randle-Highlands Elementary School in Southeast.

In an ideal world, such careful consideration would be the norm, even it means casting no vote at all. But let's face it, sometimes people just wing it.

Another Ward 7 voter at the school said she "just picked a name" among the candidates running for an at-large seat on the council.

OK, fine. But surely she had a game plan for the ward race, right?

"I just picked a name," she said. "Whoever's name I see the most, that's the one I picked."

Deadline pressure

With just one day left in the Maryland General Assembly, lawmakers are short on time — and perhaps just as short on patience.

The pace has picked up in recent days, but it wasn't fast enough Wednesday for Sen. Paul Pinsky, who complained when Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. chose to postpone a vote on a bill banning arsenic in chicken feed.

Mr. Pinsky, Prince George's Democrat, argued that Mr. Miller had postponed debate on the bill days earlier and "promised" the chamber that the vote would take place Wednesday.

Chambers often postpone debate for a day or two on especially controversial issues to allow more time for other bills on that day's agenda and as a courtesy to opponents who want to propose amendments.

Mr. Miller, Prince George Democrat, tried to assure Mr. Pinsky that the chicken feed bill would be decided on the next legislative day.

Mr. Pinsky, who was lead sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, wasn't buying it.

"I heard another promise on Friday so I'm just trying to figure out which promise we're dealing with today," he said.

Uh oh.

Mr. Miller is the longest-serving Senate president in state history and a man known to occasionally flex his temper. For those reasons, he also is known as maybe the last man in Maryland that any politician wants to cross. He wasn't happy.

"You want to apologize right now, or what?" he asked, later banging his gavel when Mr. Pinsky tried to offer a rebuttal. Mr. Miller added that "We've got a thousand other bills we'd like to move forward, especially Senate bills."

Mr. Pinsky apologized and the bill passed the next day. As of last update, he still has a seat in the Senate chamber.

• David Sherfinski, David Hill and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.

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