N.Va. Area Braces for Life After Callahan

Likely delegates to inherit leadership of the House Appropriations panel from Northern Virginia resident Vincent F. Callahan Jr., left, are Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford), center, and Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News), right. (By Steve Helber -- Associated Press)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007

One need only look to Wolf Trap in Vienna or George Mason University in Fairfax to understand the local legacy of Vincent F. Callahan Jr., the Republican state lawmaker from McLean who will retire in January after 40 years in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Callahan, 75, will relinquish one of the most powerful perches in state government: the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee. He will be succeeded, several Republican leaders say, by Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford) or Phillip A. Hamilton (R-Newport News). The region is likely to suffer for the fact that neither is from Northern Virginia, several local government, business and education leaders say.

"With Vince, you didn't have to convince him that traffic in Northern Virginia was a nightmare or convince him that we had gang problems," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). "He knew it. He lived it. It's going to take a lot of educating whoever the new chairman is so they know what it's like to live here."

Higher education and the arts were among Callahan's priorities during 10 years at the helm of the appropriations committee. After idling in the shadows of Richmond politics for decades until his party achieved parity in the House of Delegates in 1998 and took over outright in 2000, he funneled millions of dollars to Northern Virginia's two postsecondary state schools: George Mason and Northern Virginia Community College.

Robert G. Templin Jr., president of Northern Virginia Community College, credited Callahan with securing state funds in 2004 to help five local colleges and universities train more nurses and other health professionals. The initiative addressed a profound worker shortage in the health fields, Templin said.

"This was done for our region," he said. "It was extraordinary and innovative. It primed the pump that started the statewide conversation that goes on."

The Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, located on a former farm in Callahan's district for even longer than his time in the legislature, was another pet beneficiary. Callahan, who as chairman had the last word on funding of nonstate agencies each year (the equivalent of federal earmarks), inserted more than $3.5 million in the state budget for Wolf Trap in the past three years alone.

House Speaker William J. Howell Jr. (R-Stafford) said Northern Virginia will not be shortchanged if he remains speaker after the fall elections. Howell said he won't appoint the appropriations chairman until after the elections, but numerous Republican delegates said, on condition of anonymity, that Howell's choice has been narrowed to Putney and Hamilton.

"I don't think Northern Virginia likes to claim me, necessarily, but I grew up in Northern Virginia," said Howell, who was born in Washington. "I'm certainly going to be looking out for them."

Some local leaders are skeptical, particularly in light of recent battles in Richmond over transportation and school funding in which Northern Virginia has not gotten the funding leaders sought -- even with Callahan as chairman.

Northern Virginia contributes far more tax dollars to state coffers than it gets back, in part because it is the economic engine of the state and because of a formula used to calculate local school funding that favors poorer jurisdictions. Northern Virginia leaders have long battled to change the "composite index" formula for school funding, but they have failed year after year.

Republican leaders "have kept Vince on a very short leash," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. "There have been times when he's had to carry water for the leadership that ran counter to this region's interests."

The battles that Callahan lost will be even harder to win after he is gone, several people said.

Said William D. Lecos, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce: "We're going to have to adjust to new leaders with different interests and different parochial obligations."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company