- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Anti-tax candidates from across Virginia are stepping forward to try to unseat Republican legislators who broke ranks to vote earlier this year for the largest tax increase in state history.

Candidates for next year’s elections are surfacing statewide, and recruitment efforts are increasing, just one week after the higher sales, cigarette and real-estate taxes went into effect.

“There is a price to be paid with the voters for voting for record tax increases,” said James Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief. “Everybody knows we are energized. We are going to stir up the taxpayers to come out … for candidates for delegate who are anti-tax.”

All 100 House delegates face re-election next year; the 40 state senators don’t face voters again until 2007. Republicans control both chambers.

Meanwhile, House leaders have said they will support incumbents, regardless of how they voted on the issue.

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner said the anti-tax groups are few and that there is “an equal if not actually more-organized effort that’s going to go after some of the people who were the ‘no’ crowd, whether it is a Republican or Democrat.”

Mr. Warner touted the political-action committee being formed by bipartisan statewide businesses, educators and other leaders to help the maverick legislators.

He did not say if he will support Republicans who passed the tax plan, but added “I will focus my effort on Democratic candidates in the House.”

He also said lawmakers who voted for the tax package, which also cuts taxes, are moving “back to true fiscal conservative politics.”

Alan Merten, president of George Mason University who is involved in the new political-action committee, said businesses are taking a “harder look” at political candidates and will support those who voted to fund education, health care and public safety.

Already, two anti-tax Republican candidates have popped up in Northern Virginia to challenge incumbents who voted to raise taxes.

Chris Oprison is running for Delegate Joe T. May’s seat in the June primary. Mr. May, Loudoun County Republican, is running for lieutenant governor.

Chris Craddock will challenge Delegate Gary A. Reese, a two-term Fairfax County Republican.

“I looked at where Gary stood on the issues and I felt that we had already been taxed enough,” Mr. Craddock said. “That got me riled up and ready to fight.”

Mr. Craddock, 26, is the director of student ministries at the King’s Chapel in Fairfax and has never held political office.

Anti-tax Virginia delegates to the Republican National Convention last week privately tested support for their own potential challenges to House incumbents.

Paul Jost, chairman of the Virginia Club for Growth, said there are two anti-tax candidates interested in the seat held by Delegate James H. Dillard, Fairfax County Republican and a 24-year incumbent who is rumored to be considering retirement. Mr. Dillard, a moderate who is the chairman of the House Education Committee, voted for the tax increases.

“There’s certainly a lot of interest in anti-tax candidates,” Mr. Jost said. “We won’t be helping out any of the incumbents who voted for increased taxes. I think we’ll be able to unseat some. We’re not going to win everything but I think certainly we will be successful in some.”

In addition to the local groups, Grover Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, has created mailers targeting the Republicans who voted in favor of the tax-increase plan. The mailers are being sent to legislators nationwide and to Virginia voters.

Mr. Norquist said that incumbents who voted to raise taxes should not feel “warm and fuzzy” about their political futures.

The tax-reform plan also capped the state’s popular car-tax relief program, ensuring that car-tax bills will rise.

However, the state posted a $323.8 million year-end surplus because of economic recovery.

Anti-tax lawmakers predict continued surpluses and say they want to reduce taxes or lift the cap on the car-tax relief program.

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