State Sen. Warren E. Barry (Fairfax) says he will reaffirm his allegiance to the Republican Party in a news conference with Gov. James S. Gilmore III on Tuesday if the governor assures him he will not be removed as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
"I want him to get off my back," Barry said today. "My life's complex enough without having a governor riding my back."
Barry threatened to quit the party last week after Republican officials criticized him for directing $75,000 in campaign money to his son, Democrat Stanley G. Barry, the sheriff-elect in Fairfax County. Warren Barry was furious over news reports saying that some Republicans wanted to remove him as chairman of the Transportation Committee as a punishment. Although never quoted directly, Gilmore was said to be one of those angry over Barry's actions.
Barry, elected to the legislature in 1969, said today he is still "hot under the collar" but reluctant to renounce his ties to the Republicans, who now control all aspects of state government. And Republicans are reluctant to risk losing Barry, whose defection would return the state Senate to near parity, with both sides controlling 20 votes. Lt. Gov. John H. Hager (R) would cast the deciding vote in the case of a tie.
Both parties have been looking to tip the balance of power since the GOP's historic takeover of the General Assembly in last Tuesday's legislative election. Republicans have so far been more aggressive, placing calls to Democratic state lawmakers, such as Del. Barnie K. Day (Patrick), urging them to join the Republicans.
Barry, who is to meet with Gilmore before the news conference Tuesday morning, said he expects an explanation of Gilmore's actions, including his support for Republican Sheriff Carl R. Peed, whom Stanley Barry beat last week.
Gilmore's office put the news conference on the governor's public schedule, but Barry said he will have his own news conference if an accommodation is not reached. He held open the possibility of becoming an independent or even a Democrat--a possibility he likened to "sleeping with the enemy."
"It's probably not the way I want to go, which is not to say it's not what I'm going to do," Barry said. "If I come into the room [by] myself, then you'll know what my decision is."
Republicans express confidence that Barry will stay in the party, and Democrats harbor little hope that he'll switch.
"Welcome aboard, but somehow I doubt it," said Craig Bieber, executive director of the Virginia Democratic Party. "It seems like he's going to stay where he is."
In the battle to win defections, Republicans have committee assignments to offer to party switchers, and judgeships and jobs in Gilmore's administration to lure Democrats out of the legislature. If that isn't enough, the once-a-decade redistricting process will allow Republicans to draw the lines to put Democrats out of their own districts--or into ones with other Democratic incumbents.
Republicans also hope to make inroads in the state's congressional delegation. Among the targets is U.S. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., a conservative Democrat who has long resisted overtures to switch parties. Republicans could draw Goode into the 9th Congressional District with U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, another Democrat.
Goode is not commenting on efforts to woo him, confirming only that he plans to run for reelection.
"I have no idea what Virgil's going to do," said U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Virginia), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "You can't threaten him. You can't entice him. He'll make a principled decision. He's welcome in our party at any time."
But Republicans' patience is wearing thin with Goode, according to GOP strategist Dick Leggitt, who advises Gilmore but said he was not speaking for the governor.
"Before the election, Republicans were willing to go through a long and artful courtship," Leggitt said. "After the election, it's either going to be a shotgun wedding or else."