An Aug. 19 editorial on the independent gubernatorial candidacy of Virginia state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. incorrectly stated that the campaign of one his rivals, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore, had proposed that Mr. Potts be excluded from a candidates debate in October unless his support reaches 15 percent in two statewide polls. In fact, the sponsor of the debate, the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, insisted on the 15 percent rule, which has been used to screen candidates for debates in past presidential elections as well as Virginia gubernatorial elections. (Published 8/22/2005)
VIRGINIA'S gubernatorial ballot this November will include one Democrat, one Republican and one radical. The radical is H. Russell Potts Jr., a veteran Republican state senator from Winchester running as an independent. What distinguishes him from the major-party candidates and makes him the radical of this political season in Virginia is his rather quaint insistence on explaining just how he plans to pay for the programs and priorities he has identified. That may not sound like a fringe position, but in the current field it is positively revolutionary. In other words, Mr. Potts -- variously dismissed as quirky, temperamental and lacking in gubernatorial bearing -- is the only candidate bothering to level with Virginia voters.
The Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, and the Republican, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, have busied themselves on the campaign trail with a blizzard of proposals, plans and promises. There have been various reckonings of what their programs would cost, ranging well beyond $1 billion. But neither Mr. Kaine nor Mr. Kilgore has cared to volunteer much detail about what sources of funding (previously undetected Virginia oil fields? unreasonably wealthy anonymous benefactors?) might pay for such ambitious programs. Nor have they bothered to dwell on the unpleasant option of tax increases as a means of financing, say, the billions of dollars in transportation improvements that the state needs.
Mr. Potts, by contrast, insists that he would convene a special session of the General Assembly to address the transportation funding crisis, and he freely acknowledges that a higher gas tax, tobacco tax and other revenue producers would be on the table. It's hardly a novel approach, just a level-headed one: Former governor Gerald L. Baliles did just that in the late 1980s and managed to produce a funding formula that maintained and expanded Virginia's road network for a generation.
Unfortunately, Mr. Potts's candidacy lacks money and exposure. Against the two major candidates' treasuries of almost $11 million each (through the year's first half), Mr. Potts had raised only $462,000. On the insistence of Mr. Kilgore, who quakes at the prospect of a fellow Republican drawing off moderate votes, Mr. Potts was excluded from the campaign's first formal debate, in July, sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association. He may also be barred from the one next month sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce -- although 15 former chamber chairmen have rightly urged his inclusion. And unless support for Mr. Potts reaches 15 percent in a pair of statewide polls (he's now around 9 percent), he will also be excluded from the third and probably final debate in October -- the only one slated for statewide television broadcast. That arbitrary condition was set by the Kilgore camp and agreed to by the debate's sponsor, the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
The Kilgore camp's attempt to shut Mr. Potts out of the debates is outrageous; so is the acquiescence of the debates' sponsors. Whether he would make a capable governor is an open question, but Virginians will not be able to assess his candidacy without an opportunity to see him at close range. Mr. Potts is hardly a fringe figure: A four-term state senator, he chairs the Senate's Education and Health Committee and sits on the powerful Finance Committee. He deserves to be heard, as does his message.