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  • Va. Legislative report

  •   Some Say Gilmore Takes Politics Too Personally

        Gov. Gilmore
    Gov. James S. Gilmore III's hard-line approach is drawing criticism from members of his own party. (File photo)
    By R.H. Melton
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, January 29, 1999; Page B01

    RICHMOND, Jan. 28—Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) is enforcing a strict code of loyalty among Republican legislators by personalizing disagreements in policy, according to lawmakers who say they have had private confrontations with the governor or faced relentless pressure from his aides.

    Gilmore's hard-line approach in dealing with the legislature has disappointed some fellow Republicans, who believe the governor has seemed petty and thin-skinned in demanding they follow his lead on a range of issues.

    Along with Democrats who routinely are critical of Gilmore, those Republicans say that in his zeal to impose his conservative, low-tax agenda, the governor has riled lawmakers who want to be treated with a degree of deference by the executive branch, regardless of honest partisan differences.

    Gilmore said today that many of the clashes he has had with lawmakers in the legislative session that runs through February are the result of tensions brought about by an evenly divided General Assembly and the coming November elections, when all 140 seats there will be on the ballot.

    "I would not underestimate the partisan skirmishes," Gilmore said today. "Frankly, there's just a lot of scratching and clawing right now because there's a potential changeover of power. A lot of things have been said and done that are frankly partisan."

    But some of the tension has been fueled by Gilmore's push for loyalty within the GOP. On Monday, a Gilmore ally informed state Sen. Warren E. Barry (R-Fairfax) that he would not be the patron on two administration bills, largely because Barry was co-sponsoring a bill to reimburse Michele Finn $48,000 for the legal expenses she incurred last year in the court struggle over the fate of her brain-damaged husband, Hugh.

    Gilmore went to court last fall to try to prevent Michele Finn from removing her husband's feeding tube, citing statements by some of Hugh Finn's family members that he was not in a vegetative state, as doctors had said. Gilmore's appeal was rejected in court; Hugh Finn died several days after the tube was removed.

    In a private meeting with Barry at the Capitol on Tuesday, Gilmore expressed his extreme displeasure at the senator's support for the Finn relief bill.

    "I don't think it was constructive," Barry said today. "He was plain ticked. He took it as a personal attack, not as a policy matter."

    Barry's support for the Finn bill has a personal side; the senator's wife, Cheryl, suffered a brain hemorrhage in 1991 and is in a long-term care facility in Waynesboro.

    Gilmore said on his monthly radio show this morning that he resented the "very intemperate" language in the original version of the Finn bill, which later was stricken on the recommendation of Maulford W. "Bo" Trumbo (R-Botetourt), who then backed the measure.

    That led M. Boyd Marcus Jr., Gilmore's chief of staff, to summon Trumbo to his office at 8:15 a.m. today.

    "They were right upset," Trumbo said of administration officials.

    While Gilmore conducts his own campaign for party discipline, Cabinet members and ranking policy advisers have fanned out across Capitol Square to squelch proposals they view as too costly or out of step with Gilmore's staunch low-tax philosophy.

    On Wednesday, Larry E. Harrison, budget director of the Department of Motor Vehicles, was the lone witness opposing a Northern Virginia measure that would allow a referendum on a local gasoline tax increase for transit projects.

    Grinning broadly, Harrison told members of a House Finance subcommittee that the proposal by Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax) "does run contrary to the philosophy of the administration. . . . Additional taxation is not something we want to go forward with."

    Two other Fairfax Democrats, Dels. Robert D. Hull and James M. Scott, needled Harrison – and by extension, Gilmore – by pointedly asking why the DMV official objected to what, after all, was a purely local decision.

    "My role is to pass on this opinion," Harrison said, smiling again.

    The Democrats were not amused.

    "The bottom line is the governor has told us, 'Take a hike,' on the many transportation needs we have," an exasperated Scott said. Although the Watts bill was forwarded to the full finance panel, most expect it to die, as similar proposals have before.

    A key element of Gilmore's management style is intense loyalty to those who work for him, ranging from close aides such as Marcus to the State Police troopers who guard him and his family. At the same time, Gilmore demands similar dedication to his programs, as well as a tireless defense of them during the high-stakes months when the legislature is in town.

    Gilmore press secretary Mark A. Miner said today that the governor's spirited pursuit of his own agenda is natural.

    "He came into office with a core set of values that he is now working to implement – tax relief, quality education, technology," Miner said. "But in order to get these policies through the General Assembly, you need to talk to the legislators. There is a very strong outreach effort."

    Gilmore's way of doing business as governor should surprise no one by now; he punctuated his first year in office with several appointments of loyalists and the swift removal of some who ventured off the reservation.

    In October, Gilmore abruptly fired a Loudoun County developer from a prestigious state transportation board after he failed to defend the governor's opposition to new highway taxes.

    The no-compromise style of the governor and his staff rankles the most ardent Democrats.

    "They come down with a heavy-handedness – or their people do – to the point of total erasure of the separation of powers," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). "What they want is a shift from representing our people to representing the interests of the governor."

    Republican Barry was a bit more philosophical. "I've been here off and on for 30 years," said Barry, a former House member. "I've seen governors come and go.

    "And here I am."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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