In June, Virginia voters selected the state’s House of Delegates candidates for the fall elections. It was the first election since Virginia lawmakers passed the largest tax increase in the state’s history last year.
As results came in, three points became clear: Voters overwhelmingly chose candidates who pledged to oppose tax increases; several Republican legislators who voted for the tax hikes saw their political careers end; and those who survived the election did so by running away from their tax votes.
Gubernatorial Candidates Oppose Hikes
Statewide, former attorney general Jerry Kilgore won the GOP nomination for governor with more than 80 percent of the vote. Kilgore and his chief rival, Warrenton Mayor George Fitch, had both committed in writing to oppose new taxes.
“Opposing taxes was the price of entry into this race. No one could be a serious Republican candidate for governor without absolutely disavowing new taxes,” said taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. “Voters know that [current governor] Mark Warner promised not to raise taxes when he ran in 2001. Then after the election, Warner backed regional sales taxes and finally the 2004 tax package. Voters were burned once; they will not be burned again.”
Staunchly anti-tax State Sen. Bill Bolling (R-Hanover) easily won the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, with 57 percent of the vote. Bolling signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a written commitment to “oppose and vote against/veto any and all efforts to increase taxes.”
Bolling’s opponent, Prince William County Board Chairman Sean Connaughton, had refused to sign the pledge.
Tax Hikers Faced Challenges
In House of Delegates races, seven of the 19 GOP tax hikers, or 37 percent, faced a primary challenge from a candidate who signed the pledge. Taxpayer advocates say that is a very high number of challenges to incumbents, and they speculate it will discourage legislators from voting for tax increases in the future.
Of the remaining 41 Republicans, all of whom voted against the tax hike, only three faced challengers. Of the 38 Democrat incumbents who backed the tax hike, three faced challengers.
As James Parmalee, chairman of NorthernVirginia.com, said, “But the bottom line is, if you voted for Governor Warner’s tax increase, you ended up with an approximately one in three chance of drawing a well-organized, strong primary challenger. That should make people think twice next time before supporting higher taxes.”
Of the seven races with well-organized challengers, one delegate, James Dillard (R-Fairfax), retired rather than risk losing his primary, and another delegate, Gary Reese (R-Fairfax), was defeated. Michael Golden won the Republican nomination to replace Dillard, and Chris Craddick won the nomination to replace Reese. Both challengers centered their campaigns on opposition to tax increases.
“No one wants to play Russian roulette, because they have a one-in-six chance of dying,” said Paul Prososki, state government affairs manager at ATR. “In the same way, no legislator will want to face a challenger on the tax issue, because they will have a two-in-seven chance of losing.”
Hike Costs Congressional Candidate
The two delegates who will not be returning to Richmond next year are not the only casualties of the tax hike. Last September, State Sen. Ken Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) was denied a seat in Congress because of his vote for the tax increase. Thelma Drake, an anti-tax delegate, won the seat instead.
Even those pro-tax delegates who survived the primary did not run on their tax records, according to a study by ATR. The group sent a survey to all delegates, Republican and Democrat, who voted for the 2004 tax increase. The survey asked each candidate to characterize how they portrayed their tax vote in the campaign, if they mentioned it at all. It also asked for copies of their campaign documents.
After repeated requests, only two delegates responded: Mitch Van Yahres (D-Charlottesville), who is retiring, and Vivian Watts (D-Alexandria). Both said they were proud of their votes and included their record in their publications.
Running from Tax Votes
“No one ran on raising taxes,” Norquist said. “The tax hikers ran as far away from the issue as they could.”
A quick look at the Web sites of pro-tax incumbents shows they are trying to claim the mantle of opposition to tax increases. The front page of the Web site for Delegate Ed Scott (R-Madison), for example, says, “As your Delegate, I have been working hard to improve the lives of every Virginia family. I have voted to cut taxes, protect our traditional family values, create jobs, improve our schools, and make our transportation systems better for the future.”
Fiscal Conservatives Triumphed
Overall, taxpayer advocates see Virginia’s primary as the latest step in a steady progress toward smaller government in the state.
As John Taylor, president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, put it, “Bill Bolling, the fiscally conservative candidate for lieutenant governor, trounced his opponent, moderate Sean Connaughton, with 58 percent of the vote. Likewise, Bob McDonnell, a fiscal conservative and staunch defender of private property rights, crushed the big-government Republican, Steve Baril, 65 percent to 35 percent.
“Michael Golden won his primary with 73 percent of the vote to replace liberal Republican Jim Dillard in the House of Delegates. And, by a 2-to-1 margin, Chris Craddock defeated the incumbent, Delegate Gary Reese, who broke with his Republican colleagues in 2004 to vote for the largest tax increase in Virginia history.
“The end result is that we continue to make incremental progress to a fiscally responsible, conservative, state government in Virginia,” Taylor said.
Sandra Fabry ([email protected]) is state government affairs managers for Americans for Tax Reform.