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Budget Flap Is Gilmore's Legacy in Va.

Former governor James S. Gilmore hopes to succeed John W. Warner in the Senate.
Former governor James S. Gilmore hopes to succeed John W. Warner in the Senate. (James S. "Jim" Gilmore Iii)
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But his successes were often overshadowed by a confrontational style that did not sit well with Democrats and, many times, members of his own party -- even though they credited him with helping Republicans capture complete control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than a century.

"He never understood the difference between campaigning and governing," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), who served as Democratic Party chairman when Gilmore was governor.

Gilmore punished those who did not support him by firing them, removing their spouses from appointed boards and vetoing pet projects.

"I can't remember a Republican governor that has had so many problems with the business community," said Clayton Roberts, executive director of Virginia Free, a Richmond-based coalition of businesses from across the state. "He can be very, very difficult and abrasive."

For many, Gilmore was never more difficult or abrasive than the times he discussed the car tax.

There had been signs early in his term that Virginia's economic growth could not sustain its record pace, and by 2000, that fear had become reality. But Gilmore insisted on continuing to cut the car tax.

"I think that when you run for office and you tell people you are going to try to do something and it's a significant reason they elect you, then you really ought to try to keep your word," Gilmore said.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly was divided. Legislators haggled for months, but Gilmore and his allies would not budge.

"He's one of those 'my way or the highway' kind of guys," said former senator H. Russell Potts Jr., a moderate Republican from Winchester who supports Warner. "He was hellbent on his legacy."

The legislature left Richmond without passing a revised budget for the first time in history. That left Gilmore to modify the state's old spending plan, shifting money and trimming more than $400 million from agencies to make up a shortfall while still paying for the car tax cut.

"Gilmore never told me anything he didn't follow through on," said former Virginia House speaker S. Vance Wilkins (R-Amherst), who supported him. "He did everything he said he would."

Critics, including Warner and his allies, accuse Gilmore of resorting to "gimmicks" to pay for the tax cut, including using money designated for transportation or from the national tobacco settlement. Gilmore and his former staffers acknowledge that they employed some of the maneuvers but said they were all legitimate.

By the end of his term, Virginia endured the bursting of the dot-com industry, the start of a national recession and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The state faced a budget shortfall that many people thought Gilmore exacerbated by his insistence on cutting taxes.

"I think he started out pretty well, but there was a very different ending to the administration," said Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), who has been critical of Gilmore but supports him in the Senate race.

Tomorrow: A look at Democratic candidate Mark R. Warner's record as governor.


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