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Broken Ranks in '04 Could Bring Trouble This Year

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page VA04

Does retribution work? We might find out in the Virginia House of Delegates this year.

Republicans who were on the losing end of the tax fight in 2004 are, not surprisingly, eager to do better during the session that's about to begin.

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Some, such as House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), have talked about moving forward. Eager to prove that his is not just the party of "no taxes," Howell created a think tank in the summer to generate legislation aimed at harnessing the power of privatization and the free market.

Howell's main goal is to better use the private sector in building roads, bridges and tunnels.

He also has talked about consolidating state government, easing bureaucratic rules that don't make sense and more tort legislation.

Even as they focus on the future, however, the speaker and some in his majority caucus are still looking back at the past.

Last week, word leaked out that Howell had decided to dump Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (R-Lynchburg) from the powerful Appropriations Committee. There was no explanation from Howell, but it's clear that Bryant is being punished for daring to disobey the Republican leadership by leading the way to a compromise tax increase last year.

Rumors are flying fast that Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), Bryant's partner in the compromise, might soon lose his seat on Appropriations, and perhaps on the Rules Committee.

At a recent meeting of the House Republican Caucus, there was talk of other retribution -- against Norfolk, according to members who attended the closed-door meeting.

Some Republicans are furious that Democrat Paula Miller won a close election in Norfolk to replace outgoing Del. Thelma Drake (R-Norfolk), who was elected to Congress in November. Miller beat Republican activist Michael Ball by 97 votes in a special election last month.

As some Republican delegates see it, Miller's victory is the fault of city officials, including Mayor Paul D. Fraim and City Council member W. Randy Wright, who supported Miller. They also blame a new business-led political action committee, which formed in the summer to back moderate Republicans but gave $50,000 to Miller's campaign.

As a result, Fraim and other city leaders might have a tough time getting legislation they want this year. The city is pushing for the right to elect its mayor directly, the same right the General Assembly gave to Richmond recently.

As one House Republican said, "The Republicans from Norfolk in the House Caucus can raise their issues." (How many Republicans from Norfolk are in the House Caucus? With Miller's election, zero.)

Also, some House Republicans are taking aim at the chief lobbyist for the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association, Katharine Webb, for a blunt letter she wrote last spring.

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