Warren E. Barry, the scrappy GOP maverick from Fairfax County whose unpredictable streak has enlivened Virginia politics for 23 years, will retire from the state Senate in July to serve on the state liquor board, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) announced yesterday.
Barry, 68, said he sought out the $88,000-a-year position on the three-member Alcoholic Beverage Control board because he could not continue to support his wife, who is disabled and needs long-term care, on business investments and his $18,000-a-year salary as a senator.
"I have mixed emotions about leaving," said the ex-Marine, who is renowned for bucking his party on abortion rights and other issues and offending those who disagree with him. "I think overall I've been a very effective legislator. When I ran my mouth, I was soundly and justifiedly criticized for it."
Barry's resignation sets the stage for a special Senate election in Fairfax County's 37th District. Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said the governor will probably set a date in the next few weeks. Two Republicans, a lawyer from Centreville and a public policy analyst from Springfield, have announced plans to run for the seat; the county School Board member from the Springfield area is said by Democratic leaders to be the party hopeful.
Warner also tapped another state legislator for an administration post, appointing Democrat Jerrauld C. Jones, a Norfolk delegate, to run the Department of Juvenile Justice Services.
In a decade in the Senate and 13 years in the House of Delegates before that, Barry has charted a course in politics driven less by agenda or ideology and more by his gut reactions. The results were votes that could seem contradictory and were sure to generate newspaper headlines and furor from advocates on many issues. But at the end of the day, Barry got respect from colleagues in both parties.
"Warren was predictably unpredictable," recalled Del. Robert G. Marshall, a fellow Republican from Prince William County who tangled with him over social issues.
When a bill of Marshall's, to require public schools to prominently post the national motto "In God We Trust," came before Barry's Education and Health Committee last year, chairman Barry voted with Democrats to kill it. Marshall was furious: Barry's legislation to require the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was days from a vote on the House floor. Barry told Marshall that the motto bill promoted religion, while the pledge was about patriotism. The pledge measure was approved overwhelmingly, but it took another year for the motto measure to pass.
Barry said he counts among his lasting contributions the pledge and the daily moment of silence he brought to public schools the previous year. He also said he is proud to have sponsored the bill that six years ago made English the official language of Virginia, a largely symbolic move that nonetheless drew picket lines of Latino residents to the lawn of his Springfield home.
"Warren would take these bills you wouldn't think were going to go anywhere and move them a lot farther than anybody thought he would," said Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), Barry's business partner and close friend.
Saslaw recalled last year's passage of Barry's bill to allow dentists to perform certain forms of plastic surgery, one that drew angry protests from powerful doctors. "How Warren got past the medical community I will never know," Saslaw said.
Barry took other controversial stands. Two years ago, he cast the tiebreaking vote in his committee against requiring a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, a measure pushed by then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R). The bill passed last year after the GOP pried it from Barry's control.
"He doesn't shy away from a battle if he thinks the issue is right," said Barry's son Stanley, the Fairfax County sheriff. Warren Barry donated $75,000 from his campaign fund to his son, a Democrat, when he was running for sheriff, infuriating Gilmore. Then he endorsed Warner in last year's governor's race over Republican Mark L. Earley.
Barry has always liked a good fight. He called opponents of his pledge bill "spineless pinkos" last year.
The ABC board is a relatively obscure agency in state government, overseeing liquor licenses and generating about $40 million in annual revenue from liquor taxes. But the job could assume a high profile because of a federal court ruling that threw out a state law banning out-of-state wineries from shipping directly to Virginia. The ruling has been appealed to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If it is upheld, Virginia's alcohol control system will be in for big changes.
Barry's replacement will not shift the balance of power in the Senate, where the GOP has a four-seat edge over Democrats. But the seat is important to both parties. Barry was a frequent ally of Democrats seeking to block social legislation favored by the GOP.
The two Republicans who hope to succeed Barry are Mike Thompson, founder of the Springfield-based Thomas Jefferson Institute, a nonpartisan public policy foundation, and Ken Cuccinelli, a Centreville lawyer, both making their first run for office. Fairfax School Board member Cathy Belter of Springfield is the likely Democratic candidate, party leaders said.