- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said yesterday the Old Dominion remains a Republican state and isn’t likely to go Democratic anytime soon.

“The South is going Republican,” said Mr. Wilder, a Democrat. “Is there a chance for Virginia to turn back Democratic? I don’t think so. Not in the immediate future, because you have to show the party stands for the things that are considered reasonable and normal.”

Mr. Wilder, who was the nation’s first black governor when elected in Virginia in 1990, said the Democrats’ modest gains in Tuesday’s statewide elections do not reflect a sea change in Virginia politics.

“They pick up a couple of House seats,” he said. “But … when you consider you were down to 34. … I really don’t know what the party is doing.”

The Republicans on Tuesday increased their majority in the Senate by one seat, with Jeannemarie A. Devolites’ victory in the 34th District, which includes Fairfax City and parts of Fairfax County. Her win boosted the party’s lead to 24-16, according to unofficial election results.

The Democrats picked up House seats when Democrat Stephen C. Shannon beat Republican Robert M. McDowell in the 35th District in Fairfax County; Democrat Mark D. Sickles defeated incumbent Republican Thomas M. Bolvin in the 43rd District in Fairfax County; and Democrat Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. beat Republican Thomas B. Dix Jr. in the 100th District, which covers parts of the Eastern Shore.

These three victories provided the party’s first gains in the House since 1975.

Mr. Wilder also expressed satisfaction that voters approved the referendum he had pushed for in Richmond to make the city’s mayor elected citywide rather than appointed by the City Council. The issue had become racially charged, with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People saying it would violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act and black leaders saying an election would favor wealthy white candidates in the black-majority city.

“A lot of people decided they weren’t going to listen to the racist fear that was perpetrated by people who masqueraded as leaders,” said Mr. Wilder, the grandson of slaves who got his political start in Richmond and was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1969 to become the state’s first black legislator since Reconstruction.

“It is better to bring people together,” he said.

Mr. Wilder said the Democrats’ tepid showing in House and Senate races had sapped the political capital Gov. Mark Warner needed to advance his plan for rewriting the state’s antiquated tax laws. It was expected to be the Democratic governor’s signature policy item in the next legislative session, which convenes Jan. 8.

House Speaker William J. Howell, Fredericksburg Republican, has vowed to block any plan that increases taxes, a move that signaled to the state’s lawmakers that Mr. Warner’s tax-restructuring plan is doomed in the upcoming session.

Mr. Wilder said the relatively unchanged party lines in the General Assembly would not detract from Mr. Warner’s high approval rating among Virginia voters. However, he said Tuesday’s election results will cripple many of the administration’s policy initiatives. He said the results also will rob Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine of legislative victories he could run on in his campaign for governor against Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, a Republican, in 2005.

“The problem that Kaine has is that he has got to show something, and I don’t know how he is going to make his case,” Mr. Wilder said. “It is a question of his own record as lieutenant governor.”

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, agreed with some of Mr. Wilder’s comments.

“I think the election actually improves my chances, but I think the tenor of Governor Wilder’s comments are basically true,” Mr. Kaine said. “I’ll be realistic. It would be more positive if we grew by more, but I’ll take growth over decline any time.”

Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III said the 2005 governor’s race was too far in the future to be affected by Tuesday’s election. But his take on the state’s Democrats was similar to Mr. Wilder’s.

“They vigorously challenge a bunch of seats, but they weren’t successful because they weren’t offering … new or credible ideas,” said Mr. Gilmore, a Republican. “The Republican approach to protecting the taxpayers continues to be the prevailing philosophy in the state of Virginia.”

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