HOW WILL the Republican Party govern Virginia? That's the fundamental question following an election in which the GOP, already in control of the executive branch, won majorities in both houses of the legislature. Democrats, perversely, are hoping for Contract-With-America style excesses; they see their best chance to recoup in painting the Republicans as prisoners of the gun lobby and the Christian right.

Northern Virginia, on the other hand, will be best served if the Republican majority follows up on the themes of its campaign: inclusiveness, moderation, attention to traffic and schools. The first comments of Gov. James S. Gilmore III were not encouraging in this regard. "Free at last, free at last," the governor proclaimed, implicitly equating the travails of being a longtime minority party with the African American experience of slavery and segregation. "Democracy has finally come to the Commonwealth!" If the governor believes a system is democratic only when his party enjoys full control, the prospects for cooperative governance are bleak.

Perhaps his words can be chalked up to election-night exuberance. On a political level, the governor certainly has reason to take pride in the historic shift of power. So does Northern Virginia's Rep. Tom Davis, who funneled money to key races in this region. The Republicans won in part by seizing on what had traditionally been Democratic issues, especially education and transportation.

Now the onus is on them to deliver. The Republicans promised to hire more teachers, to further refine standards and testing into useful tools for primary and secondary schools, to encourage high-technology industry and education. The governor's transportation plan, which took a lot of wind out of Democratic sails when he announced it last summer, also includes commendable features. Northern Virginia is a key engine of economic growth for the entire state. Its development can't continue without more investment in roads and mass transit, as Mr. Gilmore recognized. But his contention that the region's problems can be solved without new sources of revenue--potentially with less revenue, in fact, as the car tax is phased out--remains decidedly unproven.