- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 24, 2002

RICHMOND If Mark R. Warner is learning anything in his freshman year as governor, it's that while a handshake usually seals a deal in the business world, it's no sure thing in dealings with the General Assembly.
"There are plenty of egos and personalities involved in business as well, but there's more common agreement on what the bottom line is," the Democratic governor said in an interview with the Associated Press.
"In politics, there's not an agreement on what the bottom line is," he said.
He took office in January promising to cooperate with Republicans. "This isn't about the D's and the R's," went a Warner line that became his mantra in last year's campaign.
To an extent, it worked because some Republicans backed him in the fall's election. In return, Mr. Warner put two Republicans Health and Human Resources Secretary Jane Woods and anti-terrorism and preparedness chief John Hager in his Cabinet.
On the closing day of this year's legislative session, Mr. Warner believed he had a deal with House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr. to get a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates on bills that would allow Northern Virginia voters to decide whether to raise their taxes to fund new roads and public schools.
Mr. Warner badly wanted the legislation as a way to fund transportation and education improvements despite a $3.8 billion revenue shortage over the next 2 years. He and Mr. Wilkins had bickered over the issues for most of the session.
Mr. Wilkins said he made good on his promise to Mr. Warner to present the two bills at a meeting of House Republicans. The GOP delegates, in no mood to accommodate Mr. Warner, balked and left for their homes, Mr. Wilkins and House Republican leaders agreed.
Mr. Warner said that he accepts Mr. Wilkins' explanation, but that the outcome left him steamed and disillusioned.
"There are a number of members of both parties who are more interested in preventing things from happening, who are more interested in who gets credit or not than what gets accomplished," Mr. Warner said.
Mr. Wilkins toiled 22 of his 24 years as part of a GOP minority in a Democrat-dominated House. He said Mr. Warner, who made millions in the cellular telephone industry but had no prior government experience, is "a sharp fellow" who got a bruising crash course in Virginia politics.
"Everybody likes to say I have complete control of the House, but that's not necessarily true," said Mr. Wilkins, who became speaker in 2000 when the Republicans won their first House majority.
"They sent two very flawed bills over here on the last day of the session and expected us to act on them," he said. "It was a waste of our time to even take up bills like that."
Mr. Warner and Mr. Wilkins profess mutual respect for each other, and they say the uneasy end to this year's session won't change that. Each also notes that this year's disagreement seems tame compared with a 2001 session that ended in a bitter dispute that foiled efforts to revise a big-spending budget as state tax revenues began to ebb.
"I'm going to keep trying to cooperate because that's the only way you're going to get something done," Mr. Warner said. "Obviously, I take away lessons from this first session, but gridlock is not a good option."


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