More rumblings of GOP division
Saturday's Washington Post included another chapter in the never-ending saga of the warring factions of the Republican Party in Virginia. The "moderates" in the Senate and the "conservatives" in the House of Delegates are still having a hard time narrowing their differences over transportation funding and other issues. (I use quotation marks because I'm becoming skeptical that those labels are really accurate of what each side represents.) The Senate voted down the measures related to illegal immigration, one of which I supported [link corrected]. The article focused on two key protagonists, the flamboyant Sen. Russ Potts of Winchester, a moderate's moderate, and House of Delegates Majority Leader Morgan Griffith. Actually, I tend to agree with Potts about not wearing one's faith on their sleeve, echoing the thoughts of former U.S. Senator John Danforth (see October 12), but when it comes to tough issues such as the budget or immigration, Potts just doesn't get it. Stubborn-headed legislators like him make it very difficult to reach a compromise solution that serves the broad interests of Old Dominion residents.
Sayre challenges Sen. Hanger
These divisions are becoming manifest right here in the Shenandoah Valley, as a challenger to incumbent state Senator Emmett Hanger has emerged: Scott Sayre, a businessman from Buena Vista. He announced his candidacy at several public appearances yesterday, as reported in the News Leader. On Tuesday evening he spoke at length to the Staunton Republican Committee about his family background, his service in the Army, and his career as a private business owner. He emphasized his strong opposition to taxes and illegal immigration, and then faced questioning from the local party members who wanted to know his positions on other issues. See his Web site: www.sayreforsenate.com.
Some have complained that Sen. Hanger is "out of touch" with his constituents, based primarily on his vote to increase the state income tax in June 2004. This was part of a last-minute compromise that prevented the state government from shutting down. Even though that tax hike proved to be much greater than what was truly needed (we now have a surplus), I grudgingly accepted it at the time, figuring that the alternative was the state getting a bad financial reputation. In relative terms, however, Virginian taxpayers are still not doing that badly. From the state government's Web site "Virginia Performs":
According to the Tax Foundation, in 2006 Virginia had the 10th lowest state and local tax burden in the country at 9.5 percent of income.
Translation: If you think Virginia's taxes are too high, you should move to Maryland or Massachusetts. As for the criticism of Hanger as being "out of touch," what many people fail to recognize is that senators are generally expected to exercise greater judgment as to what serves the common good, whereas members of the lower house are supposed to reflect the sentiments of their constituents in a more direct way. The distinction in roles is not always crystal clear, but that is one of the fundamental reasons for having a bifurcated legislative branch -- as a check on sudden popular impulses.
For the record, I should state that I know Sen. Hanger personally, and he is a very friendly, decent, competent man. I may not agree with him all the time, but I do admire his thoughtful, independent-minded approach to grappling with complex policy issues. At a time when the Republican Party is being torn apart by single-minded tax-cut advocates on one hand, versus a few unprincipled "moderates" who pander to the mainstream media on the other hand, Sen. Hanger is a clear voice of reason who can get the two sides to work toward a common goal. He embodies the old-fashioned ideal of a Virginia Gentleman.