- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

Anti-tax groups promised that Virginia lawmakers who voted for the largest tax increase in state history would pay for it at the polls.

As it turns out, only six of the 19 targeted Republican delegates face challengers in Tuesday’s primary election.

Still, the results of those six contested races will signal whether Virginia is headed for a tax revolt or voters really didn’t mind the $1.38 billion tax increase passed in May 2004, observers say.

Election officials predict a statewide voter turnout of 4 percent to 6 percent of registered voters.

The Republican delegates involved defend their vote to raise the sales, cigarette and real estate transaction taxes as the only way to avoid a government shutdown over a budget impasse.

Some seasoned observers predict all six of the challenged incumbents — who have raised much more money than their opponents — will keep their seats.

“If there is even one upset, it would be a bellwether for the anti-tax movement,” said former Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican who opposed the tax increases. “Still, there is a sense of betrayal out there.”

Anti-tax groups, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, are quick to defend even a half-dozen primary challenges as the beginning of a sea change.

Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, joined centrist Republicans in praising the mavericks as fiscally responsible in breaking party ranks and arguing that they saved Virginia from financial crisis.

Tax-cut advocate James A. Bacon of the “Bacon’s Rebellion” Web log (www.baconsrebellion.com) said the outcome Tuesday will be seen either as a validation or rejection of the tax increases.

“Unless something extraordinary and unexpected happens at the polls, the insurgents will be quelled, and a new conventional wisdom will arise — Virginians are willing to pay higher taxes,” he wrote.

Mr. Norquist promised he would make an example of the pro-tax Republicans to state lawmakers across the country. He mailed out an Old West-style poster featuring the photos of every Virginia Republican who voted for tax increases.

The primary is not a true referendum on the tax increases, Mr. Norquist said, because the incumbents are not campaigning on the fact that they voted to raise taxes.

“Most of the candidates are lying about it, hiding it or downplaying it dramatically, which tells you that the candidates think the voters don’t think it was a particularly good idea,” he said.

Even so, Virginia’s tax fight attracted national attention.

The Republican Main Street Partnership, a centrist group based in the District, endorsed the incumbents and is running radio ads for favored candidates.

“We hope that the conservative Republicans get tired of the blood bath,” said Sarah Chamberlain Resnick, the group’s executive director. “Let’s fight the Democrats; let’s not fight each other.”

She said national polls show that Republicans want fiscally responsible lawmakers, better schools and clean air more than lower taxes.

Sen. John H. Chichester, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and an architect of the tax increase, praised the incumbents as “independent thinkers” who represent the majority.

“Had it not been for them, we would probably have lost our AAA bond rating and would not have been recognized as the best financially managed state in the union,” the Stafford County Republican said.

Mr. Chichester and Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City County Republican, were re-elected by overwhelming majorities in 2003, when anti-tax Republicans tried to oust them.

Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch, who also endorsed and donated to the incumbents, argues that the anti-tax crowd is in the minority.

“These are people that think the only test for conservatism is a single vote that took place in 2004,” the Henrico County Republican said. “[That] doesn’t make sense, and I don’t think the general public will buy into it. The test of time will be whether or not we are responsible and have met our commitments.”

Anti-tax groups point to the recent retirement of Delegate James H. Dillard II as a victory. Mr. Dillard, chairman of the House Education Committee, supported the tax increases and said more are needed to fund schools.

The groups also claim victory from last summer, when anti-tax Delegate Thelma Drake was nominated by Republicans to run for an open seat in the House of Representatives over Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle, a Virginia Beach Republican who backed the tax increases.

One of the most contentious races Tuesday is in Manassas, where Steve H. Chapman, 27, is challenging longtime House Finance Committee Chairman Harry J. Parrish, 83. The two have frequently traded barbs, and Mr. Chapman faces election-fraud charges that he believes were instigated by the Parrish campaign.

Delegates Gary Alan Reese of Fairfax County and Joe T. May of Loudoun County also were targeted.

Delegate L. Preston Bryant Jr. of Lynchburg, who led the tax-reform effort last year, is another Republican incumbent with a primary foe. Earlier this year, his removal from the powerful House Appropriations Committee was viewed widely as punishment for his role.

Mr. Reese and Delegate Edward T. Scott of Culpeper are viewed as the most vulnerable among the Republicans’ six challenged incumbents.

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