- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

As Virginia Delegate Gary A. Reese reached for the “Yes” button to approve a $750 million tax increase last year, he turned to his seatmate and said, “I’m about to buy myself a primary challenge.”

The Fairfax County Republican’s prediction was right. Mr. Reese, 60, will face youth minister Chris Craddock, 26, in the Republican primary Tuesday.

Mr. Reese was one of 19 Republicans who in April 2004 voted for tax increases, knowing their action would invite much criticism and scrutiny from the anti-tax wing of their party. Five others also face primary challenges next week.

“The message there is, if you vote for higher taxes, you are going to have to explain yourself to the voters,” said James T. Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief. “That’s healthy for the political system.”

Mr. Craddock said his candidacy is more than just about the tax fight. “We’re not just running against Gary. I want people to know I have solutions,” he said.

Last year, there were two major votes on the tax increases — one for $750 million and one for $1.38 billion. After the House passed the first tax package, the Senate tacked on additional taxes, increasing the total figure before the House voted on it a second time.

Mr. Reese, a former Fairfax County School Board member, did not vote in favor of the final compromise, which raised the sales, cigarette and real estate transaction taxes.

The two-term delegate defended his first vote, saying it was a way to shield the Republican Party from the political consequences of a state government shutdown, which was impending, owing to the months-long impasse over the budget. He said the vote came as the state was 48 hours from losing its prized AAA bond rating.

“I really do believe it would have meant the destruction of the Republican Party, and I couldn’t follow that path,” said Mr. Reese, a lawyer. “It wasn’t an easy decision.”

He did not vote for the larger tax package because “that was as far as I was willing to go” and he didn’t think it was needed. He was right — the state ended up with a surplus.

Some anti-tax groups, including the Virginia Club for Growth, call Mr. Reese and the others “RINOs,” which stands for “Republicans in Name Only.”

Mr. Reese and the others were the target of Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, which produced “Wanted” posters in the Old West fashion with photographs of each Republican who voted for the tax increases.

The other five House Republicans who face challenges from anti-tax candidates: Delegates Joe T. May of Loudoun County; Harry J. Parrish of Manassas; Edward T. Scott, a first-term delegate from Culpeper; Robert D. Orrock Sr. of Caroline County; and L. Preston Bryant Jr. of Lynchburg.

Mr. Bryant, considered the leader of the maverick Republicans who voted for the tax increase, has already been punished. Earlier this year, House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford County Republican, removed Mr. Bryant from the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Still, Mr. Howell and other House leaders have endorsed all of the challenged incumbents, most of whom have served several terms in the House.

The challengers are anti-tax and considered socially conservative. They have little experience holding public office, and in most cases, are much younger than their opponents. For example, Steve Chapman is 56 years younger than his 83-year-old opponent, Mr. Parrish.

Mr. Craddock, director of student ministries at the King’s Chapel in Fairfax, has never held an elected office. But he is well-known in the 67th District, as was seen when a Washington Times reporter walked with Mr. Craddock through the neighborhood near where the candidate grew up. Residents asked the candidate about his family and chatted with him about the soccer team he coaches.

“Gary voted to raise our taxes,” Mr. Craddock usually tells residents when he campaigns. “I just feel like we need to keep our taxes low and bring more of our money back to Northern Virginia.”

During a recent afternoon of campaigning in the Brookfield precinct, Mr. Craddock was in friendly territory, where most of the homes have either voted in a Republican primary or are considered likely Republicans. Nearly all of the voters Mr. Craddock talked to said they will support him.

Thomas Johnson, a retired police detective who works on security detail at Oakton High School, was one of them. “I like his Christian perspective,” he said. “I got a good gut feeling about him.”

Mr. Reese said his opponent is to the “extreme right” of the district’s voters. Mr. Craddock tells voters his opponent is too liberal.

Odds normally favor the incumbents, said Stephen J. Farnsworth, associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg.

“It’s always an uphill battle for challengers to take on incumbents,” he said. “The one thing they have going for them is this issue that has galvanized part of the GOP faithful.”

At the same time, party activists angry about the tax increases are the most likely to head to the polls in the Republican primary, which is expected to have a low turnout.

“The deeply committed types are the ones who show up,” said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University.

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