- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

RICHMOND — Democrats are taking their campaign to regain control of the General Assembly on the road, blaming the Republican majority for the expensive and unpopular “abusive driver fees” while taking credit for Virginia‘s reputation for fiscal prudence.

All 140 legislative seats will be on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election. Democrats hold 17 of the 40 Senate seats and 40 of the 100 House seats.

Democratic legislative leaders announced yesterday that they are starting a “Change the Assembly” tour to persuade voters to return their party to power. Republicans won a clear majority in both chambers for the first time in 1999, ending 130 years of Democratic dominance.

“Their 15 minutes of leadership are up,” House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong, Henry County Democrat, said at a press conference.

The Democrats said they will announce several policy initiatives during their tour, which began with Gov. Tim Kaine‘s fundraiser in Northern Virginia on Tuesday and continues with stops in Virginia Beach, Danville, Rocky Mount and Leesburg over the next few days. They also proposed a “veterans bill of rights.”

At the press conference, however, they focused on “Seven Republican Roadblocks: Seven Reasons for Change.”

Chief among them were the abusive-driver fees, which are part of what Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, called “a hodgepodge of things” passed by the legislature this year to raise money for transportation. The penalties, which range from $750 for driving on a suspended license to $3,000 for felony driving offenses, anger many Virginians because they do not apply to out-of-state motorists using the state’s highways.

“Every Virginian is now acutely aware of a Republican transportation plan that fails to solve transportation but gives out thousand-dollar speeding tickets to military officers and pregnant women,” said Delegate Brian J. Moran of Alexandria, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “That’s not a solution to problems; it’s a Washington-style gimmick.”

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith, Salem Republican, noted that many Democrats, including Mr. Kaine, supported the legislation.

“To those who don’t like the abusive-driver fees, it should be ‘A pox on both their houses,’ ” Mr. Griffith said.

Democrats said the Republican Party also erected “roadblocks” to raising the minimum wage, stem-cell research, teacher pay raises, increases in long-term care for seniors, more money for education and preserving the state’s AAA bond rating.

Mr. Griffith dismissed the assertions as partisan posturing.

“It’s just a broadside against us, mainly using innuendo and disinformation to make it look like we’ve done a bad job,” he said.

He said the legislature never fully funded the public schools’ standards of quality until Republicans took over, and said most Republicans opposed a state increase in the minimum wage because it was clear Congress was about to raise the federal minimum.

Democrats said Mr. Kaine and his predecessor, fellow Democrat Mark Warner, deserve credit for the accolades Virginia has received in recent years for management of state resources, preparing children to succeed and creating a good environment for business.

“The House Republican leadership has stood in the way of Virginia’s progress every step of the way and it’s time for a change,” Mr. Armstrong said.

Mr. Moran said the successes would not have been possible had Mr. Warner not persuaded 17 House Republicans to join Democrats in supporting a $1.4 billion tax increase that balanced the state budget in 2004.

J. Scott Leake, executive director of the Virginia Senate Republican Leadership Trust, suggested that Democrats are attacking the Republican Party because they have nothing else to offer.

“If I didn’t have a new idea, I don’t think I would call a news conference to reveal that fact,” he said. ” ‘Us good, you bad’ is hardly a novel message from Virginia Democrats.”

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