- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

RICHMOND — State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., a Republican from Winchester who infuriated his own party by running as an independent for governor, announced yesterday he will not seek re-election to a fifth term.

Mr. Potts, a 67-year-old professional sports event promoter, announced his retirement from the elected office in an emotional speech on the Senate floor.

“I will not seek, nor will I accept, the nomination of my party — or any party — for the 27th District seat, but I’m sure as hell not going to retire,” Mr. Potts said. “I will never retire and I will never quit fighting for what I believe in.”

Mr. Potts ran his maverick campaign for governor in 2005, angering Republicans who feared he would dilute support for their nominee, Jerry W. Kilgore, and swing the election to Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, who won the race.

A stalwart conservative when elected from his upper Shenandoah Valley district, Mr. Potts grew disenchanted with what he saw as increasing stridency by Republicans on fiscal and moral issues.

Mr. Potts was at the core of a group of Republican moderates that formed a coalition with Senate Democrats to dominate floor votes the past six years, beginning in a bitter showdown in 2001 with then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III, a Republican, in a budget fight.

He further tweaked his party’s religious right as chairman of the Education and Health Committee where House-passed, anti-abortion bills often died. In his gubernatorial race, Mr. Potts said he opposed legislation to ban homosexual couples from adopting children, saying, “We’re all God’s children.”

The pro-life Family Foundation welcomed Mr. Potts’ retirement.

“We welcome this retirement but see it only as the beginning of a continued battle for pro-life, pro-family legislation to get a fair hearing and a fair vote,” said Victoria Cobb, the organization’s president.

Mr. Potts has repeatedly criticized his party’s conservative wing as being obsessed with “God, guns and gays.”

Had he run this year, Mr. Potts would have faced a tough primary battle against two Republicans, Jill Holtzman Vogel, a Warrenton attorney, and Mark Tate, a Middleburg restaurateur and former town council member who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Potts in the 2003 primary.

Mr. Potts said he would continue to battle the grip he said anti-tax, social conservatives had on the Republican Party in Virginia.

“I’m going to work to save the party because it’s worth saving, and if I can’t save it, I’ll leave it,” he said.

Mr. Potts said he considered running for another term to spite his Republican critics.

“I love the fight. I love the campaign. I loved it. And to tell you the truth, I came within an eyelash — this close — to running again just to prove I could win to a lot of naysayers. And, believe it or not, I even considered running, winning and then retiring,” Mr. Potts said.

In a lengthy series of tributes to Mr. Potts, senators from both parties praised his independence.

“I’m just so proud to know him. I’m just so proud to have served with him,” said Sen. John H. Chichester, Stafford County Republican and one of his closest allies.

Democrats were also emotional in bidding Mr. Potts farewell.

Sen. Janet D. Howell of Fairfax County wept as she spoke, saying that while Mr. Potts lost the 2005 governor’s race, “he did win the hearts of most of Virginia.”

Former Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, issued a one-paragraph statement praising Mr. Potts.

“I worked closely with Senator Potts as he reached across party lines to put Virginians first and create opportunities in schools, transportation and budget reform,” Mr. Warner said.

Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw of Fairfax said he had tried to talk Mr. Potts out of his decision.

“I don’t know of anyone I ever served with in the House or the Senate who has been more fearless than that man over there,” Mr. Saslaw said.

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