Correction to This Article
ยท A Feb. 4 Metro article incorrectly described firearms legislation defeated by the Virginia Senate. The proposed bill would have required private sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks. Merchants at gun shows already must conduct such checks.

Va. Still Holds Guns, Tobacco Dear

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By Anita Kumar and Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 4, 2009

RICHMOND, Feb. 3 -- The Virginia Senate showed Tuesday that tobacco and guns are still valued and protected, both culturally and politically, by many of the state's residents.

The Democrat-controlled chamber dealt significant blows Tuesday to two major proposals championed by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), setbacks for a governor who has struggled to score legislative victories during his tenure.

The Senate Finance Committee deadlocked on Kaine's proposal to double the tax on cigarettes, a move aimed at raising money to close a $3 billion budget shortfall. Hours later, the full Senate rejected a bill that would have required merchants who sell weapons at gun shows to first conduct background checks on the buyers. The measure's sponsor used a procedural maneuver to keep the legislation alive, at least for one more day.

The Senate also voted to repeal a law that prohibited anyone from carrying concealed weapons into a club or restaurant where alcohol is served.

Republicans joined with conservative Democrats from rural areas to defeat the bills in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 21 to 19 majority.

"It's still a middle-of-the-road state, and that means you still need to get the rural areas, not just the urban areas," said Sen. John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke), who voted against closing the gun show loophole.

The votes come after a series of Democratic electoral victories -- powered by heavy support in Northern Virginia for the party's candidates for the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, governor and president -- that some took as signs of seismic political change in Virginia. Rural lawmakers said proposals about tobacco and guns offered them a chance to reassert themselves.

Virginia, considered by many to be a conservative Southern state, is home to the National Rifle Association, and gun ownership is widespread. Tobacco was once the foundation of Virginia's economy, and the state is home to thousands of tobacco farms and Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA.

"Virginia still seems to be ruled by the gun lobby and the tobacco lobby," said Sen. Janet Howell (D-Fairfax). "I think there are many members who are unwilling to oppose them for fear of retribution at the polls. And there also is a sort of traditional Virginia 'past' that is supportive of tobacco and guns."

The tobacco industry did not end a busy day in Richmond unscathed. The Senate approved four bills that would outlaw smoking in bars, restaurants and public places. The measures now head to the Republican-run House, where they face an uncertain future. The ban is one of Kaine's top priorities.

The future also is unclear for Kaine's tobacco tax, which was intended to raise $148 million to help pay for Medicaid. The Senate Finance Committee's vote of 8 to 8 effectively stalls efforts to raise the tax from 30 cents to 60 cents per pack. But the legislature's budget negotiators could try to revive the tax as part of the two-year, $77 billion budget.

In his fourth and final year in office, Kaine had supported the gun show bill and pushed the tobacco tax.


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