- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 4, 2006

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine faces a roadblock in his push for statewide transportation improvements: the success of his predecessor and political ally, former Gov. Mark Warner.

Political observers say House Republicans don’t want Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, to gain the political influence that Mr. Warner achieved.

“The fact that the Republicans were not united in 2004 made Mark Warner look like a master leader, and made them look incompetent,” said Mark J. Rozell, a public-policy professor at George Mason University. “I think what is largely at stake for Republicans is their reputation for leadership effectiveness.”

Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican, said, “If [Mr. Kaine] is able to pull off a statewide transportation plan, then certainly — with a Republican-controlled legislature — he will have bragging rights.”

Mr. Albo opposes Mr. Kaine’s statewide plan.

In 2004, 17 House Republicans voted for Mr. Warner’s $1.38 billion tax increase, a move that “helped create a national political figure,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political-science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

Later that year, Governing magazine named Mr. Warner and Sen. John H. Chichester of Stafford, his top Republican ally, as public officials of the year for “bipartisan belief in fiscal integrity as the essence of good government.”

Mr. Warner now is mentioned along with Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York as Democratic contenders in the 2008 presidential election.

When Mr. Kaine took office in January, he promised to govern with Mr. Warner’s bipartisan spirit. He has aligned himself with centrist Senate Republicans, who are advocating about $750 million a year in new taxes for roads and regional plans for Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia.

Meanwhile, anti-tax Republicans, who vow not to fold this year, have proposed to set aside about $1.3 billion for roads.

The budget stalemate threatens to put the General Assembly on the road to eclipsing its record-breaking 115-day session of 2004.

“I think they are doubly determined this time not to have that happen again,” Mr. Rozell said.

Mr. Kaine received national attention when Democratic National Committee leaders gave him a $5 million campaign contribution last year. In January, party leaders asked Mr. Kaine to deliver the rebuttal to President Bush’s State of the Union address.

Mr. Farnsworth said it is unlikely Republicans will talk openly about limiting Mr. Kaine’s political influence because they don’t want to appear “crass or partisan.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffin, Salem Republican, disagreed. He said such concerns aren’t fueling House opposition to Mr. Kaine’s transportation plan.

“Somebody may have said it in a meeting, but that is not what is motivating us,” he said, adding that the budget debate boils down to different fiscal philosophies.

Since Mr. Warner achieved success, House Republicans, most of whom were elected on pledges to fight taxes, have worked to become more unified and stop what Mr. Rozell sees as a “real potential for a Democratic resurgence in Virginia.”

“We are united,” House Speaker William J. Howell, Stafford Republican, said before the primary election last year. “[The tax fight] is behind us.”

Six House Republicans who sided with Mr. Warner on the 2004 tax issue faced opponents in the primary. One lost.

“It was sort of a warning sign in the House how far you can stray from the reservation and still be comfortable in the seat,” Mr. Farnsworth said.

Robert Holsworth, director of the Center for Public Policy at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the political climate is different from the time Mr. Warner took office in 2002.

Mr. Kaine was encouraged to push the transportation issue this year because next year, when all 140 lawmakers seek re-election, “there won’t be any stomach for a tax increase,” Mr. Holsworth said.

“It took Warner three years to propose a big tax package,” Mr. Holsworth said. “Kaine came in with a far bolder agenda than Warner.”

Mr. Warner was elected to strengthen the state’s fiscal situation, but it wasn’t until his third year in office that he was able to convince the legislature that a tax increase was needed to fund public education and maintain the state’s coveted AAA bond rating.

“It’s a tougher sell for delegates today,” Mr. Holsworth said. “Transportation doesn’t have the statewide grass-roots support that education does.”

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