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Va. Session Opens With Warner Stressing Roads, Bipartisanship

But Warner's critics in the legislature questioned his commitment to working with Republicans who did not support his call for higher taxes last year.

Del. Christopher B. Saxman (R-Staunton) said: "It's politically easy to say that we should all be bipartisan. But this year, he's going to raise millions to try to unseat a lot of us in November. We'll see if the proof's really in the pudding."

In his State of the Commonwealth address in the House of Delegates, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) focused on his proposal to improve roads and expand public transit. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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Stage Set for Battle Over Gay Marriage (The Washington Post, Jan 14, 2005)
A Look Ahead at the 2005 Session (The Washington Post, Jan 13, 2005)
State of the Commonwealth (The Washington Post, Jan 13, 2005)
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Warner promised to spend his last year in office focused on Virginia issues, and he made no mention of speculation that he will run for the U.S. Senate or the presidency after he leaves office. In Virginia, governors are prohibited from running for consecutive terms.

Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the speech amounted to an early valedictory in advance of what the governor hopes will be a "do no harm" session and a controversy-free final year.

"He wants to make sure he does nothing to damage the reputation that he clearly established last year on the national front," Holsworth said. "If he had his druthers, he'd call the governorship over and declare it a success."

Virginia lawmakers opened the 2005 session amid the cacophony of construction equipment renovating the 217-year-old Capitol. Many legislators expressed high hopes for a shorter and less-combative gathering than last year.

Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax), one of the Senate's most conservative voices, said the last session left lawmakers "emotionally and politically exhausted. There's sort of this feeling, 'Can't we all just get along?' "

Howell surprised some politicians by choosing not to punish additional members of his caucus who had voted for last year's tax increase. Two weeks ago, Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (R-Lynchburg), leader of the breakaway group, confirmed that Howell had informed him he would not be on the sought-after House Appropriations Committee this year.

"You can tell that people really want to try and move ahead," said Del. Harry J. Parrish (R-Manassas), chairman of the House Finance Committee. "It's important for us to . . . move on with other business, like transportation and how to fund other programs."

But some of Warner's adversaries, especially those in the House, said they intend to push forward with efforts to repeal the tax increases. They said the state owes its taxpayers a refund on the extra $918 million it will collect because of the booming economy.

"It's not our money that's coming in; it's the people's money," said Del. Ben L. Cline (R-Amherst), who has submitted a bill to return money to the taxpayers.

And some lawmakers predicted that the rancor of the previous session might live on this year, when Virginia elects a governor and all 100 members of the House of Delegates. Sen. James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax) said the air was still thick with tension about whether last year's divisions will surface again.

"It's like going to a party and not being sure whether someone's going to tell a dirty joke," he said.

Although transportation looms as the largest issue this session, lawmakers also will debate a proposed constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages and changes in the rules for filing lawsuits, regulations for state colleges and universities, and restrictions on abortion clinics.

Staff writers Chris L. Jenkins and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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