Chichester Supports Democrats In Election

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007

RICHMOND, Oct. 17 -- Retiring Senate President John H. Chichester is breaking ranks with the Republican Party and supporting at least three Democrats in the Nov. 6 election, a rebuke to his GOP colleagues who are fighting to retain their majority in the Virginia Senate.

Although Chichester has been working with Democrats for years, his donations to three Democrats demonstrate how the moderate and conservative wings of the GOP remain deeply divided over taxes and social issues.

According to campaign spending reports filed this week, Chichester (R-Northumberland) donated $1,000 last month to Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William), even as most Senate Republican leaders are working to help conservative Bob FitzSimmonds (R) unseat Colgan.

Chichester has also made $3,000 contributions to Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania) and Democrat John Miller, who is running against Tricia Stall (R) in the Tidewater area. Political analysts widely expect Houck to survive the challenge by Chris Yakabouski (R), but the outcome of the Colgan-FitzSimmonds and Miller-Stall races could decide which party controls the Senate. Republicans have a 23 to 17 edge.

Chichester, who is also supporting moderate Republican candidates, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), a moderate who is also retiring, said Chichester is trying to prevent conservatives from taking over the Senate.

FitzSimmonds and Stall are closely aligned with the anti-tax, antiabortion wing of the Republican Party that Chichester has railed against for years. FitzSimmonds is also a one-time aide to Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), a conservative with whom Chichester often has clashed. Stall defeated Sen. Martin E. Williams (R-Newport News), a Chichester ally, in the Republican primary in June.

Potts said he is also supporting Colgan and Miller because their opponents are "flat-out extremists." He said Chichester is "standing up for his principles" and "obviously has great concern about FitzSimmonds and Stall."

Stall and FitzSimmonds said they aren't surprised that Chichester, who helped then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) win passage a $1.5 billion tax increase in 2004, is supporting their Democratic opponent. "I am surprised he hasn't donated more," FitzSimmonds said. "He has never been particularly loyal to our party or ideals, and he didn't appreciate me criticizing his high tax ways."

Stall said, "Chichester spent his time raising taxes on Virginia, and John Miller would probably do the same. You can tell a lot about who your friends are."

Countered Potts: "What has happened to the party of my father, my grandfather? We are defined about all these things we are against: anti-taxes, antiabortion. But tell me, what we are for?"

Chichester's donations underscore the predicament facing his one-time Republican Senate allies. When Republicans gained control of the Senate in 1999, Chichester became one of the most powerful men in Richmond. He partnered with four other moderate Republican senators, becoming known as the "Gang of Five." Led by Chichester, they started a political organization in 2004 after Senate Republicans broke off ties with conservative House leaders. The group was dedicated to preserving moderates' influence within the Republican Party.

With Chichester retiring, moderates are being forced to support several conservatives so Republicans can keep their majorities. Chichester's political organization, now led by Sen. Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) and Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), is paying for Stall's campaign manager and making direct contributions to FitzSimmonds.

Stolle said Republican leaders aren't surprised Chichester is supporting some Democrats. "I prefer that he not, but John is John," Stolle said. "He is an independent thinker."

Chichester donated $3,000 to the Republican vying to replace him, Richard H. Stuart. He has donated $500 to Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-Fairfax), who is in a close race with J.C. "Chap" Petersen (D).

Potts said he and Chichester draw the line at FitzSimmonds and Stall.

"At the end of the day, I still have to look in the mirror," said Potts, who is considering backing Karen K. Schultz (D) over conservative Jill Holtzman Vogel (R) in the race to succeed him.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company