One of the nation's leading anti-tax crusaders on Tuesday unveiled a Wild West-style "Least Wanted" poster that pillories 34 Republican lawmakers in Virginia who voted for a tax increase this year.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said he plans to mail 10,000 of the 3-by-2-foot wanted posters, including one to every state lawmaker in the nation. The message: This, too, can happen to you if you vote for higher taxes.
"We will convince them: 'Oh, I get it. It's not a smart political move to raise taxes,' " said Norquist, flanked by representatives of other national and Virginia-based anti-tax groups. "Will the taxpayers of Virginia ever forget the very bad things they did? I don't think so."
The poster features mug shots of 15 state senators and 19 House delegates who voted for tax increases the past session. Their pictures are spread across a giant picture of a deputy sheriff's badge.
It calls the senators "a dying breed of Republicans" and says "a posse of taxpayers may send them away." It alleges that the delegates "were fooled by Governor [Mark R.] Warner and the senators above into approving an unnecessary tax increase."
James T. Parmelee, president of Fairfax-based Republicans United for Tax Relief, vowed to unseat the offending lawmakers "step by step by step."
And David Williams, vice president of Citizens Against Government Waste, said the poster will be "a warning to lawmakers across the country who may be lured by the siren song of higher taxes."
But other Republicans in the state, including some who opposed the tax increase, called the poster "a stunt" and criticized Norquist and the others for harming the Republican Party in the middle of a presidential campaign.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem), who opposed the tax increase, said he did not think the poster was helpful.
"We made our positions clear last spring. There was a disagreement, but in reality, we are a big party," he said. "We can wallow in the controversies of the past or move the commonwealth forward."
Republicans pictured on the poster were more direct.
"What you have there are a group of reactionaries masquerading as conservatives who are out to destroy the Republican Party," said House Appropriations Chairman Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (Fairfax).
Del. L. Preston Bryant (Lynchburg) called it "an incredible waste of resources" when Republicans should come together to help reelect President Bush.
And Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (Henrico) said that Norquist "thrives on divisiveness and fear." He added that "shrill divisiveness is not constructive."
J. Scott Leake, executive director of the Virginia Senate Republican Leadership Trust, the political arm of the chamber's top Republicans, objected to what he called the anti-tax effort to "brand" Virginia's lawmakers.
"Branding is for cattle, not Republicans. But if we're going to be branded, at least it ought to be by people with a track record of political success, preferably in Virginia," Leake said. "They can blather about taxes but have no answers of their own."
The anti-tax activists repeated their main frustration with the Republican lawmakers in Virginia, saying that they lied about their intent to raise taxes when they were elected to office the last time.
Ben Krause, vice chairman of the Virginia Beach Taxpayers Alliance, decried what he called "the truth decay" in Richmond.
Norquist said his and other groups will use whatever resources they can muster to get rid of the Republicans pictured on the poster. And he said he is not concerned by wealthy business executives' pledges of support for the pro-tax Republicans.
"They have a problem," he said of the lawmakers. "They voted for the tax increase. I don't care how much money they raise, they can't get away from the fact they lied to get into office and did a very bad and destructive thing for Virginia."
Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Warner, said the tax increase was not a bad thing for the state.
"They might want to check with the sheriffs -- who supported the tax reform plan because it offered fair pay for law enforcement officers -- about the use of a giant sheriff's badge in their poster art."