- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 7, 2002

The rejection by Virginia voters Tuesday of two road referendums backed by Gov. Mark R. Warner is the latest in a string of political setbacks for the Northern Virginia millionaire who came into office last year with 52 percent of the vote.
"There is no question about it being a personal setback, he has talked about this since his campaign last year," said Bill Wood, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia. The failures "do not really give the governor much room to come up with a solution."
"It was certainly a reflection of the lack of confidence the public places in the direction he wants to take this commonwealth," said Gary Thomson, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.
On Tuesday, voters in Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads regions rejected referendums asking them to raise their sales tax to fund transportation initiatives in their respective regions. The revenue that was to be raised would have gone toward projects aimed at alleviating gridlock. Mr. Warner, Democrat, had made passage of the referendums a top priority during his first year in office. He spent a good amount of time in recent months campaigning for both proposals.
"I wholeheartedly supported these measures because they offered the people an opportunity to address their critical transportation needs," a disappointed Mr. Warner said Tuesday night after the results came in.
The transportation referendums have caused the governor grief since he took office. The General Assembly abruptly adjourned March 9 shortly after 5 p.m. as state Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. waited in the House chamber to inform the delegates of the Senate's action passing the two transportation packages.
The 57-37 vote to adjourn, largely along party lines, came with six hours remaining in the General Assembly session members had until midnight before they were required by law to adjourn. But House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, jumped up as soon as delegates sat down, calling for a motion of "sine die" ending the 60-day session.
House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr., Amherst Republican, who opposed the referendum legislation, did not recognize Mr. Norment, the Senate floor leader, because the motion to adjourn had been made. After a raucous 30-minute debate tinged with anger from Democrats, the House voted to adjourn.
Since then two special state Senate elections have been held in Northern Virginia. Both campaigns revolved around passage of the sales-tax increase. State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, Fairfax Republican, and state Sen.-elect. James "Jay" O'Brien, Clifton Republican, both ran on platforms opposing the referendum's package. Both men solidly defeated pro-referendum candidates supported by Mr. Warner.
Critics of the transportation initiatives said the governor misinterpreted the mood of the electorate.
"He took a political drubbing last night. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the referendum in areas where Mr. Warner ran strongly last year. There was a real mandate, and it was that this is not what they wanted," said Mr. Cuccinelli, chairman of the Coalition Against the Tax Referendum.
Democrats yesterday were quick to point out that Republican leaders were also active in the campaign.
"The governor certainly did push for it [but so did U.S. Sen.] John Warner, [U.S. Rep.] Tom Davis and many others," said Delegate Brian Moran, Alexandria Democrat. "He did it because he felt it was the right thing to do."
Gov. Warner's supporters dismissed the idea that the failure of the two roads referendums is an indication the governor's ability to lead the state has been diminished since he was elected.
"I don't think this has affected him and his ability to be an effective leader," said Lawrence Framme III, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia. "You play with the hands you are dealt and he was dealt a hand with limited government resources."
State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Democratic caucus chairman, said the governor deserves respect for being such a visible voice on a controversial issue.
"I know there is great disappointment for him [personally]. I admire the fact that he was out there talking about the issue and getting the word out," said Mrs. Whipple, Arlington Democrat.
During Gov. Warner's campaign last year, he pledged to bring a new tone to Richmond and to work with both Democrats and Republicans to resolve the state's fiscal mess. He also pledged to allow Northern Virginia residents the right to vote on a transportation referendum to help ease their congestion, considered one of the worst in the nation.
The governer worked hard alongside Republicans such as Delegate John A. "Jack" Rollison III, Prince William Republican, to see passage of the referendum package. He campaigned often with Sen. Warner throughout the fall advocating for its approval.
Speaking to reporters in Richmond yesterday, Gov. Warner credited anti-tax and anti-sprawl advocates with doing an effective job in defeating the pro-referendum message.
"You had an unusual coalition of advocates from both ends of the political spectrum trying to raise doubts," he said. "[Defeat] was a more complicated response than, '[The voters] just don't trust us.'"
Speaker-designate William Howell said he believes Gov. Warner will have no more difficulty working with the Republican majorities in the General Assembly in light of the referendums' failures because "nothing has changed."
"I think there is a lot of media buildup speculating what this means, and I don't think it change him or anything. He is still the same governor he was yesterday I don't think it will have anything to do with his ability to be governor," Mr. Howell, Stafford Republican said, adding Republicans would continue to work with the Democratic governor in areas where they agreed.

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