Tuesday, September 9, 2003

RICHMOND — The new leader of the state Republican Party said yesterday that party members must unite on important issues so they can take advantage of their majority vote in the General Assembly and make Virginia a better place to live.

“We are the dominant party, and we are going to act like it …,” Chairwoman Kate Obenshain Griffin told a collection of Republicans and Libertarian activists known as the Tuesday Morning Group. “There is more that unites us than divides us [and] we will work hard to unify our party. We have a broad and diverse party and that is a sign of our strength. The Republican Party is and needs to be the party of ideas.”

The 34-year-old Griffin is a self-described “dyed-in-the-wool” conservative and longtime party loyalist. She was on the campaign that helped George Allen get elected governor in 1993, then served as an education- and health-policy adviser for the administration. Mrs. Griffin also was on the state’s board of higher education. Her nomination for party chairwoman was strongly supported by Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore and Mr. Allen, now a U.S. senator.

Mrs. Griffin’s father, the late Richard D. Obenshain, who helped develop the modern-day, conservative Virginia Republican Party, was killed in a plane crash in 1978 while running for the U.S. Senate.

Conservatives at yesterday’s meeting were pleased with her election.

“She is such a breath of fresh air,” said Tim Wise, president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Alliance. “I hate to say it, because I have been burned before, but it was great to hear her talk about liberties and freedoms. … I think this will help her build the party.”

John Taylor, president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and organizer of the monthly meetings in Richmond, said attendees are Republicans, Libertarians and “even a few Democrats.”

Mr. Taylor likes Mrs. Griffin’s candor and vision and was optimistic about Virginia’s political future.

“You really don’t hear politicians talking about liberty and personal rights anymore,” he said.

Mrs. Griffin takes over a party rocked by scandal during the last 18 months.

Former state party Executive Director Edmund A. Matricardi III and former state party Chairman Gary R. Thomson have pleaded guilty to charges related to the illegal wiretapping of confidential Democratic conference calls in March 2002.

Three months later, then-Speaker of the House S. Vance Wilkins was forced to resign after acknowledging he paid a $100,000 settlement in a sexual-harassment suit. Mr. Wilkins was credited with helping orchestrate the “Republican Revolution” of 1999 during which the party took control of the Virginia House and Senate.

“We have largely put that behind us,” Mrs. Griffin said after addressing the group. “By reaching out to the grass roots and beyond Richmond for the next chairman, we can focus on the future and what the party should be.”

The party has also been splintered on such issues as abortion, education, tax reform and transportation.

Mrs. Griffin will continue to live in Winchester with her husband and four young children and commute to Richmond.

She disputed recent news stories that listed her occupation as housewife.

“I love being a housewife and a mom, but there is more to me,” Mrs. Griffin said. “I have more of a resume than just that.”

Mr. Taylor said if anybody could help the Republicans get past their recent problems, it would be Mrs. Griffin.

“I am hopeful because Kate does have a reputation of being a conservative, a fireball,” he said. “If there is someone who could step in and hit the ground running it’s her.”

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