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Warner Tried to 'Govern From the Center'

Skeptics Mock Bipartisanship as Governor's Final Session Ends

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 7, 2005; Page A01

RICHMOND, April 6 -- The gavels fell in the House of Delegates and the Senate Wednesday, marking the end of Virginia's first experiment in at least 100 years with a Republican legislature and a Democratic governor.

The one-day meeting to consider Gov. Mark R. Warner's actions on bills passed by the General Assembly was the last legislative session of the Democratic governor's four-year term. It closed a relationship that sparked the state's longest budget crisis but also earned Warner a national reputation for working across party lines.

Gov. Mark R. Warner said his leadership "approach has been . . . to try to find common ground." (File Photo)

The Governor and the Assembly

Rather than wage partisan battles over vetoes, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) tended to avoid all-or-nothing confrontations with the Republican-controlled legislature.

2005: Assembly sustained his one veto, of a bill that would have encouraged Virginia's government to seek a federal exemption to the ban on offshore drilling for oil and gas. Warner asserted the governor's control over the state office that lobbies Congress.

2004: Assembly rejected Warner's amendments to bills barring recognition of civil unions and same-sex partnerships, setting educational qualifications for parents to teach children at home, establishing murder of a fetus as a felony and setting rules on the introduction of new evidence after a felony conviction.

2003: Assembly upheld veto of a bill that would have repealed Virginia's estate tax but rebuffed amendments to reduce the effects of new abortion restrictions. It also rejected Warner's proposal to reduce the scope of a bill barring illegal immigrants from qualifying for in-state tuition rates at colleges. Warner later vetoed that bill.

2002: Assembly upheld an amendment allowing Northern Virginia's transportation tax referendum, but rejected an amendment that would have imposed a $5 fee on every ton of garbage dumped in landfills. It also upheld the veto of a bill to ban the procedure opponents call "partial birth" abortion.

_____Virginia Government_____
Va. Colleges Seek Financial Flexibility (The Washington Post, Apr 6, 2005)
Warner Amends Bill on Colleges' Autonomy (The Washington Post, Mar 31, 2005)
Warner Signs Immigrant Aid Limits (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2005)
The Governor's Actions (The Washington Post, Mar 30, 2005)
Full Report

Faced with solid legislative majorities for the opposing party after his election in 2001, Warner forged close ties with moderate GOP leaders in the Senate, turning that body into an ally.

"The approach has been, where possible, to try to find common ground, to govern from the center, where the majority of Virginians' views are," Warner said in an interview.

He failed to reach a similar rapport with Republican leaders in the House, who engineered stinging defeats during his first two years. But in the latter half of his term, Warner found ways around them, appealing to junior and maverick GOP members for the majorities he needed.

That climaxed in 2004, when Warner persuaded 17 House Republicans to abandon their leadership and vote for a $1.5 billion tax increase to the state's two-year, $60 billion budget.

"With any new governor, there's a shakedown cruise," said Stephen J. Farnsworth, an associate professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. Now, he said, "you can see Mark Warner coming into his own as a backroom politician."

Warner, barred from succeeding himself, now turns his attention to his political future, though he declines to say what that will be. Some speculate he will challenge Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen in 2006. But others believe Warner will seek the Democratic Party's presidential nomination in 2008.

"This is his last hurrah, really," said House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), an on-again, off-again GOP ally. "He'll coast for the rest of the time." Warner's term ends in January.

His adversaries, especially in the House, scoff at Warner's reputation for governing in a bipartisan fashion. They say he used guile and slick talk to create the false impression of an effective working relationship with Republicans.

"No one has said he's not a smart politician, but being a smart politician doesn't mean you are Mr. Bipartisan or are a good elected leader," said Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta).

Shawn M. Smith, executive director of the Virginia Republican Party, said that "no amount of perceived centrist rhetoric will conceal Mark Warner's true high-tax liberal coattails."

Warner earned national attention last year for pulling off what many had considered politically impossible: persuading a Republican legislature to increase taxes.

He appeared on the cover of Governing magazine with his chief ally, Senate Finance Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland). A national anti-tax group featured Warner's face along with those of his Republican allies on a "Least Wanted" poster distributed to legislatures across the country.

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