A Wistful Warner Bids Farewell -- for Now

Mark R. Warner leaves the chamber after delivering his final State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly, which opened yesterday.
Mark R. Warner leaves the chamber after delivering his final State of the Commonwealth address to the General Assembly, which opened yesterday. (Photos By Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 12, 2006

RICHMOND, Jan. 11 -- In the crowded confines of a temporary Capitol and amid jokes that he will be dragged, kicking and screaming, out of a job he loves, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said goodbye to Virginia on Wednesday night.

Warner bid farewell to lawmakers in a wistful speech that recalled four years he said were characterized by bipartisanship and fiscal discipline. Left unmentioned in his final State of the Commonwealth address was a new campaign that could take him into the 2008 presidential contest.

"Virginians have told me three things," Warner said. "That results matter, that they're proud of the direction we're going, and a third thing: You know, they really appreciate it when we work out our differences and work together to get things done."

The businessman-turned-politician, who can still be called "His Excellency" for a few more days, said lawmakers in both parties deserve to share the credit for an improving state economy, higher student test scores, more jobs, stronger colleges and a more efficient state government.

But Warner said he is proudest of "something that can't be measured" and praised "a cooperative spirit that, actually, no balance sheet shows." Referring to bipartisan efforts to pass legislation, he said the public believes "we changed the tone in Richmond."

Warner will soon hand over the Executive Mansion keys to Democrat Timothy M. Kaine in an inaugural celebration that will take place in Williamsburg for the first time in more than 200 years. The state's historic Capitol is undergoing a complete renovation.

But Wednesday night was Warner's time to bask in the glow of what even staunch adversaries acknowledge was a sometimes rocky but ultimately successful four years as the state's chief executive.

Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said Warner's success in pushing through tax increases in 2004 was "a monumental achievement" even if he and other Republicans opposed it. "He certainly has bragging rights," Albo said.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) was one of Warner's most persistent critics. After the speech, Griffith said, "He's worked hard for the people of Virginia and he's done some good things, but there are some things I would have liked to have seen done differently."

Warner used the 31-minute speech to lobby one last time, pressing the 100 delegates and 40 senators to accept the major proposals in his final budget. Those include cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, boosting college research, revamping the mental health system and providing money for road and transit projects.

"There is work yet undone," he said. "None of these are my priorities alone . . . . My hope is that they are your priorities and that you will see them as the people's priorities."

Warner has formed a federal political action committee and has begun to assemble a political staff to guide him as he travels around the country to states that hold early presidential primaries. He joked to one state senator this week that he planned to "check out the skiing in New Hampshire."

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