Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun) played a critical role in ending 2004's state budget standoff, defying his party's leadership in the House of Delegates and supporting a plan that raised taxes and pumped money into public education and other services.
The vote was reviled by some, admired by others -- and got him a challenger in the June 14 primary for his party's nomination for reelection in the 33rd District, which includes western Loudoun County and Clarke County.
Lawyer and Leesburg resident Chris Oprison has been waging a relentless campaign against May, arguing that the six-term delegate is out of step with his increasingly conservative district on a range of issues, most notably taxes. He has been endorsed by several state and national leaders, including Gary L. Bauer, the former Republican presidential candidate, and Michael P. Farris, president of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville.
"These are some of the biggest names in conservative circles, high-profile people willing to back a young upstart," said Oprison, 34.
May, 68, is a sixth-generation Virginian who has lived in Leesburg for more than two decades. He has been backed by much of the Republican Party establishment, including gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore and House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). Howell stood beside May in Leesburg this year when May announced that he would drop a planned a bid for lieutenant governor and defend his House seat instead.
May said his background as an engineer and longtime county resident gives him an edge in the race.
"A remarkable number of issues in front of the General Assembly have substantial technical content," said May, who owns a Sterling electronics company and holds numerous patents.
In last year's tax fight, 17 House Republicans defied Howell and joined a coalition in the House and Senate to pass a spending plan that included tax increases to support education and other services. May is one of six of those delegates who now face challengers in the June 14 primary.
Oprison, who grew up in Powhatan, Va., and moved to Loudoun from California about 18 months ago, argues that district residents were incensed not just by the vote, but that May had at first announced he was against the plan, then backed it at a critical moment.
"There was deception involved," he said.
Oprison, a former Marine officer, has signed a no new-tax pledge and has proposed dramatically cutting local property taxes. He wants an amendment to the state constitution that would set home assessments back to their value two years prior to the amendment's passing and then cap the amount they can rise each year at 2 percent. It would also prohibit local governments from raising the tax rate above $1 per $100 of assessed value. By contrast, this year Loudoun supervisors lowered the county's tax rate to $1.04 per $100.
"We want to make sure the localities understand they will not be able to keep spending at will," he said.
May said that his 2004 tax vote helped the state avoid a government shutdown and that he remains a fiscal conservative. He said Oprison's plan on property taxes would starve schools and public safety and encourage the local governments to approve strip malls so they could replace real estate tax money with sales tax revenue.