The letter from Virginia Del. Melanie L. Rapp (R-York) to her Republican colleagues -- written when it was clear they were losing the fight against higher taxes -- describes a 63-member caucus torn by philosophical differences and personal animosity.
"Achieving compromise [has become] a new top priority," she wrote in April. "All we have demonstrated is a willingness to raise taxes and abandon our commitments to the voters."
Rapp's letter echoed the fury among many in the House GOP caucus at lawmakers who broke party ranks to support tax increases proposed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and a bipartisan group of senators. In the end, the state raised sales, tobacco and other taxes by $1.5 billion over the next two years.
Rapp ended the note with the following: "A few short weeks ago, what united us eclipsed what divided us. Now, that too has changed. With that change, we are now -- in my view -- a caucus in name only. With sadness, Melanie."
However, some of Virginia's House Republicans have begun seeking ways to repair the damage and recover the momentum they had in 1999, when they wrested control of the House away from the Democrats for the first time in a century.
For the past two days, more than two dozen House Republicans have been meeting in a swank Reston hotel, away from the familiar hallways of the state Capitol in Richmond, for an "ideas and issues" retreat. The stated purpose is to brainstorm ways to reduce government spending, reform bureaucracy and partner with private industry.
But many House Republicans on both sides of the tax debate said they hoped it served another purpose: to help them heal.
"One of our issues right now is: How do we heal the caucus and how do we heal our relations with the Senate?" said Del. Thelma Drake (R-Norfolk), a member of the House leadership. "It's an opportunity for people to come together. The more you interact with people, the harder it is not to like them."
Drake, who fought tirelessly with other GOP leaders in the House to stop the tax increases, said it was "very painful for many of us to see this kind of rift take place in the caucus."
Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (R-Lynchburg), one of the leaders of the breakaway group of Republicans who supported tax increases, said he hoped his colleagues could find a way to get past their differences.
"There's a general sense among all caucus members that there needs to be a coming together so that we can move forward again as a relatively cohesive unit," Bryant said. "Granted, it's going to require folks who were on both sides of the tax reform debate to make a concerted effort."
That effort began informally Friday, as lawmakers who had screamed at each other behind closed doors during the legislative session sat together in the hotel lobby and attended discussions about spending restraint.
Early Friday, Dels. Daniel W. Marshall III (R-Danville) and David A. Nutter (R-Montgomery), both of whom supported the state's final tax increase, stood next to a table of pastries and coffee chatting with Del. Thomas D. Gear (R-Hampton), one of the chamber's most ardent anti-tax advocates.
Marshall, who runs a concrete business and is a professional race car driver, said he has begun attending fundraisers for delegates who opposed the tax increase.
"I'm here with an olive branch," Marshall said.
In the afternoon, Gear and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who also opposed taxes, could be seen laughing with Del. Robert Hurt (R-Pittsylvania), who joined the 17 in rebelling against Howell's anti-tax leadership.
"For me, you take the budget and what happened, and you set it aside," Nutter said. "I think it helps to get away from the tension of the session."
Despite the veneer of affability at the retreat, there are still hard feelings, some lawmakers said privately.
In the past six weeks, Howell has begun removing some of the 17 breakaway Republicans from key committees and commissions -- positions that can be politically helpful.
Bryant was taken off a key health care commission, along with Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), who had helped develop the compromise tax plan that eventually passed. Other members also have been removed from commissions.
Howell said the personnel changes are routine and not an effort to exact retribution against members who voted to increase taxes. He noted that two anti-tax members of the Senate recently were removed from commissions by the Senate leadership who had supported the tax increases.
"I hope you report that, too," Howell said.
But Jones also was removed from a key leadership group, called the calendar committee. Drake, who chairs the committee, said it was not possible to be part of the party's leadership while working against it at the same time.
"It was my decision to remove Chris," she said. Jones declined to comment.
Some of the chamber's more conservative members appear to be having trouble letting go of their anger.
Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (R-Prince William) sent an eight-page fundraising letter across the state at the end of May. In it, he blasted Republicans who voted for the tax plan.
"The broken promises, the fiscal irresponsibility, the arrogant assumption that voting for high taxes is the 'brave' thing to do -- it all makes me so mad," the first-term delegate wrote. "For goodness sake, this is the free state of Virginia, not what we've always jokingly called 'the People's Republic of Maryland!' "
Still, Republican lawmakers on both sides of the tax divide said opportunities remain for the House caucus to come together on other issues.
In his opening remarks, Howell called on all House Republicans to join in "new ideas and new innovations" and said the party needs to be unified.
"A new way of doing business is what our caucus has to be focused on," he said.
Throughout the weekend, lawmakers found common ground in discussing ways that government can save money and be more efficient. Nigel Morris, the former president of Capitol One, urged state government to adopt businesslike practices, including the creation of a chief operating officer.
U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), who spoke to the lawmakers yesterday morning, praised them for renewing their focus on ideas rather than dwelling on the divisions over taxes.
"This is the right thing to do, to bring the team together," he said. "You are going to see the GOP leadership in the House advancing ideas . . . moving forward rather than looking at past differences."
But it was Maurice P. McTigue, a former member of the New Zealand Parliament who highlighted the difficult divisions still to be bridged among lawmakers at the retreat when he posed a question.
"What does the Republican caucus stand for?" he asked, rhetorically. "Ideally, it should be easy to answer that immediately."