To Fend Off Scandal, Va. Republicans Are Pressing Delegate to Resign

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RICHMOND, Aug. 25 -- Virginia Republicans are trying to fend off an escalating scandal surrounding a powerful legislator by pressuring him to resign before he tarnishes the GOP ticket statewide and possibly costs his party a crucial seat in the divided legislature.

Party leaders, including gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell, are calling on Del. Phillip A. Hamilton to step down over a conflict-of-interest issue as they head into the November election, in which polls show all three GOP statewide candidates leading.

But Hamilton, a 21-year legislative veteran from Newport News and one of the most powerful members of the House of Delegates, refuses to resign and insists on running for reelection.

Gary C. Byler, chairman of the 2nd Congressional District Republican Committee in Hampton Roads, said that Hamilton deserves a chance to prove his innocence but that he could hurt a reenergized party looking to turn around recent losses. "It's a distraction to the state ticket," Byler said. "It's a little bit of a drag. It's something we would not like to have."

Democrats are hoping to taint Republicans with the whiff of possible corruption as they remind voters -- many of whom are anxious about the direction of the state, a new Washington Post poll shows -- that the General Assembly is partly run by Republicans.

Democratic attorney general candidate Stephen C. Shannon is criticizing his GOP rival, Ken Cuccinelli II, for being the only statewide candidate of either party to refuse to call for Hamilton's resignation.

All three Democrats running for statewide office -- gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds, lieutenant governor candidate Jody Wagner and Shannon -- have called for Hamilton to step down. McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling joined them late Monday.

Hamilton, who as a budget negotiator and vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee is one of the few legislators who helps determine how billions in state money is spent, tried to get a job at Old Dominion University while securing money for the school.

Hamilton and ODU severed ties last week, after the school released documents showing that Hamilton had discussions about a job with the university at least five months before he submitted a budget amendment to fund the Center for Teacher Quality and Educational Leadership.

Hamilton has apologized but said the residents in his district should decide whether he should represent them. "The people of Newport News and James City deserve a representative whose first concern is their interest, and not one who follows the dictates of partisanship or convenience," he said in a statement.

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) has asked his chamber's Ethics Advisory Panel to investigate Hamilton for a possible violation of state conflict of interest laws, but has not called for him to step down.

This year, Democrats hope to pick up the six seats they need to take control of the House for the first time in almost a decade -- which would give them a majority in both chambers.

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