Some of the leading figures in Northern Virginia's business community played host yesterday to two Republican lawmakers from outside the region who led a rebellion in their party to support tax increases that business groups favored.
Del. L. Preston Bryant Jr. (Lynchburg) and Del. S. Chris Jones (Suffolk) dined at a McLean luncheon with about a dozen high-tech executives and attended a larger evening fundraiser in Tysons Corner. Bryant also was invited to tonight's monthly meeting of the 123 Club -- some of the Washington area's biggest names in business.
The gatherings reflect the continuing fallout from the 2004 General Assembly session, during which many House Republicans sought to block tax increases. The stalemate was broken when a group of 17 Republicans, led by Bryant and Jones, voted for a $1.4 billion increase.
"It's about thanking them for their leadership, especially when you look at the track record they have for not supporting tax increases," said Nancy Reed, the top lobbyist for the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, which co-sponsored last night's fundraiser.
Virginia businesses have traditionally backed the state's Republican leadership, especially once the party took control of the legislature in 1999.
But some of the executives who planned or attended yesterday's gatherings with Bryant and Jones said a new day might be dawning in Virginia politics, when those with the largest checkbooks pay less attention to political position and more attention to how lawmakers vote.
"We are trying to get people to realize they need to write checks to the people who are helping us out," said Michael G. Anzilotti, president of Virginia Commerce Bancorp Inc. and 123 Club member. "The idea is for the business community to get to know them better."
There already has been indication that change is underway. Last month, a top health care lobbyist caused waves in Richmond by publicly rejecting campaign contribution requests from GOP lawmakers who voted against tax increases, including the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
And Virginia FREE, a business organization that ranks lawmakers, gave poor marks to Republicans who opposed taxes this year. It was the second time in a row that the group has questioned the GOP's commitment to business goals.
Yesterday's events were the first public indication of a new approach among Northern Virginia's many corporate executives.
The region's business groups often reach out beyond their own elected leaders to meet with the House speaker, powerful Senate chairmen or top cabinet officials. But it is rare for two delegates from other parts of the state to be accorded such treatment.
Bryant declined to comment, and Jones could not be reached.
The luncheon yesterday afternoon at Qorvis Communications included officials from America Online, Time Warner, Microsoft, the Northern Virginia Technology Council, GTSI and other high-tech heavyweights.
Participants said the discussion focused on technology policy. Bryant is chairman of a technology subcommittee, and Jones chairs a committee on procurement.
"There's no doubt about it, these two men are some of the most important delegates to our region who are not from our region," said J. Douglas Koelemay, a managing director for Qorvis who set up the lunch.
Koelemay said business leaders will continue to have strong ties with some of the House GOP leadership. He said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), who opposed the tax increases, was helpful in other key legislation of interest to Northern Virginia's high-tech businesses.
But, he said, "clearly, if you look at the politics of the last 20 years, it seems to have encouraged people with very strong party identification. You may be seeing some natural correction there."
The evening reception was held at the offices of McGuireWoods, a large Tysons law firm. Reed, the Fairfax lobbyist, said the event was designed initially as a fundraiser for Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax) but grew to include a "meet and greet" for Bryant and Jones. It was also sponsored by the Northern Virginia Apartment and Office Building Association, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Northern Virginia Roundtable and the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors.
Reed, who also serves as the director of the chamber's political action committee, said she believes politicians will begin to see a more targeted approach to campaign contributions by business. "They are starting to go to those who support our agenda, as opposed to those who are just incumbents," she said.