Correction to This Article
In the article on the Virginia governor's race, the captions for photos of Fairfax County residents Jeff Murphy and Alan Norris were transposed.

Va. Voters Seek Jobs, Candor

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 8, 2005

Virginians can be quite upfront about what they expect from their next governor.

In South Boston, near the North Carolina border, Rick Harrell wants better jobs for thousands of laid-off textile workers. In Suffolk, on the coast, Crystal Brown wants less expensive health care and better schools. In the Fairfax County community of Kingstowne, Alan Norris wants an easier commute and to trust that his taxes are being spent wisely. And in Tazewell County in the west, J.J. Fuller wants a way to earn money for his young family and a governor who won't mess with his guns.

On Nov. 8, Virginians will choose a successor to Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). During the past two weeks, The Washington Post interviewed people in four regions of the state to discuss what they expect from their state leaders.

What emerged from several dozen conversations was a deep pessimism about the coming campaign. Most said they have little faith that any of the politicians running for the state's top job will deal seriously with the issues they care about. They said they crave candor, straight talk and honesty but are not expecting to get it.

"I'm sick and tired of the mudslinging," said Ginger Branton, director of Tazewell's Chamber of Commerce. "I want to hear what's important to me, not made-up stuff on other people."

Many of the those interviewed expressed skepticism about proposals by both major-party candidates to rein in homeowner taxes. "If there's a proposal to decrease taxes, the question is: 'And then what?' " said Norris, a board member of the Kingstowne homeowner association near Springfield. " 'I'm going to decrease taxes here, but I'm going to raise them over here.' "

And in each place, there was a sense of competition with other parts of the state and a fear that the candidates will offer proposals that benefit one part of Virginia at the expense of another.

"When you take the map of Virginia and you write 'commonwealth' across it, we're the common," said Audrey Davidson, an education consultant for Halifax County Public Schools in Southside Virginia. Waving her hand toward Northern Virginia, she added: "and here's the wealth."

In South Boston

Bill Kelehar has heard the radio ads for weeks now. Democrat Timothy M. Kaine and Republican Jerry W. Kilgore -- each proclaiming throughout southern Virginia to be religious men, guided by the Christian faith. He's tired of it already.

A plant manager at a South Boston flag manufacturer, Kelehar is a religious man, a born-again Baptist. But he grimaces over the radio spots.

"All they are after is the Southern Baptist, religious, God-fearing vote," he said. "They don't think we have enough sense down here to know anything about roads or taxes and about any of that stuff."

South Boston, a town of about 8,500, is struggling economically. Rick Harrell, who runs a local trucking business, said the town's 7 percent unemployment rate doesn't begin to reflect the true devastation of textile plants moving to India and tobacco farms shutting down.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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