If anyone in Virginia harbored any illusions that this year's legislative collision over taxes would soon be forgotten, a startlingly direct e-mail from the firefighters union in Virginia Beach should dispel them.
Issued just hours after Rep. Edward L. Schrock's sudden political demise, the missive from the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2924 to the Virginia Beach Republican Committee makes it plain that the tax issue lives on.
"We want it to be 100 percent clear: We will NOT support Delegate Thelma Drake if she is your choice to replace Congressman Ed Schrock," wrote the union's president, William P. Bailey. "Delegate Drake has a dismal record in support of public safety issues in Richmond and has forced our members to reach this decision."
Bailey, in a later conversation, made it clear that Drake's offense, in his union's eyes, was her vote against a $1.5 billion tax package favored by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), Democratic lawmakers and moderate Republicans in the state House and Senate. The tax increases allowed for increased spending on education, public safety, health care and colleges.
"With Ms. Drake's 'no compromise' budget position, we would not have been able to achieve compromise and put a state fiscally sound budget in place," Bailey said. The anti-endorsement was made on behalf of firefighters in Virginia Beach and Norfolk and the Virginia Beach police unions, he said.
Instead of Drake, the unions pushed for state Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle (R-Virginia Beach), one of the tax effort's leaders. They pledged to support Stolle, a former police officer with a tough-on-crime image, and issued an ultimatum:
"We believe that our public safety endorsement can be a strong ally in the race against the Democratic challenger," Bailey wrote. "However, it is our intent to support the Democratic candidate if Delegate Drake is your replacement choice . . . the decision is yours to make."
The not-so-veiled threat is another indication that supporters of the tax increases are not going to fade into the mist now that the votes have been cast.
Hospital lobbyist Katharine Webb also did the unthinkable this summer: She refused requests for campaign contributions and openly cited votes against the tax and budget plan as her reason. A group of wealthy business executives is organizing a massive fundraising effort to help lawmakers who voted to raise taxes. And a teachers union is running radio ads thanking citizens who supported the tax increase.
The Republican mini-campaign to replace Schrock also offered a reminder that anti-tax forces haven't forgotten either.
Paul Jost, a defeated Senate candidate from 2003 and a staunch anti-tax crusader, issued an e-mail blast in the hopes of influencing the selection.
Jost's e-mail -- titled "KEEP KEN STOLLE OUT OF CONGRESS!!!" -- cited Stolle's support for the tax increases as the sole reason for selecting Drake as the party's new nominee.
"It is absolutely critical that Senator Stolle be stopped and that we send someone to Congress who will support President Bush's agenda for lower taxes," he wrote.
Several Republican sources said that as the Virginia Beach Republican Committee vote approached Thursday night, Stolle had been able to obtain only three solid commitments from the 12 who were to vote. One source with direct knowledge of the discussions said five people had committed to Stolle.
Just hours before the vote, Stolle dropped out, citing personal and financial concerns. When the 12 Republicans on the Virginia Beach committee met a few hours later, they voted for Drake. And, true to their word, the firefighters quickly endorsed Democrat David Ashe, a former Marine and Iraqi war veteran.
Jost declared victory.
"In the first Republican nomination battle since the largest tax increase in Virginia 's history," he wrote, "the score is: President Bush and the anti taxers -- 1. Liberal Pro-taxers -- 0."
But, as in most team sports, the early score matters little. It's the score when the buzzer goes off that counts.
To be a victory for tax opponents, Drake still has to win. If she doesn't -- in a conservative and military district where it should be tough for a Democrat to win -- it could end up as a model for the tax plan's supporters, who think voters will punish what they view as an extreme position on the state's budget woes.
If she does win, a philosophically divided Republican Party will have to come together long enough to defend her old state House seat against a well-funded and reenergized Democratic Party.
It should be fun to watch.