The Hampton Daily News editorial page thinks Paula Miller’s victory in Norfolk yesterday might send a chilling message to the no-tax crowd.
Essentially, the contest pitted a pragmatist against a populist. Former TV reporter Miller pitched her candidacy in moderate, bipartisan terms; her Republican opponent – Regent University fund-raiser Michael Ball – adopted the have-it-all-for-less posture of the departing Drake.
This time the have-it-all-for-less pitch tanked.
Ball appears to be a decent enough fellow – he was gracious in defeat – but public patience may be running out with the proposition, lovingly advanced by the noisy wing of the GOP, that somehow you can continuously cut taxes while still fulfilling the state’s core commitments to public services, i.e. education, public safety and transportation.
But there was also a little assist – $50,000 – from the newly formed political action committee “Leadership for Virginia.” Created and funded primarily by Republican businessmen and entrepreneurs (whose patience was long ago exhausted by the fiscal folly of populism and who are willing even to put money behind Democrats to get the point across), this PAC will be active in the House races in 2005, particularly in support of those members who supported Warner’s budget compromise.
The long-term intent of the PAC, says one of its organizers, is to get Virginia “to pay its bills” and discourage the free-lunch politics of recent years. That’s an admirable ambition, and now the House of Delegates has one more member – Del.-elect Paula Miller – committed to it.
Though the turnout (22+%) might have been better than expected for a special election, the margin was so thin (less than 100 votes) that we can’t read too much into it. Yet, it suggests that painting no-taxers as out of touch with reality might have traction. Or at least that being a no-taxer doesn’t always get you elected. But the greatest damage to the GOP is the continued erosion of business support for their candidates. The question is can Dems keep their support without giving away the store. Next November could be fun.
The Virginian-Pilot is also looking forward to November and thinks “moderation” was the winner.
The precinct results make clear that Republicans abandoned Ball and crossed over to the Democrat.
They rallied behind Miller’s urgency for bipartisan problem-solving in Richmond, particularly for transportation, law enforcement and education.
And for at least two reasons, it’s a bigger setback for the right wing of the Virginia GOP than the closeness of the results would suggest.
First, the district was remapped three years ago to include some of the city’s most reliably Republican precincts along Little Creek Road.
This was intended to make it very hard for a Democrat to oust Drake. It was so hostile that Democrat Del. Don Williams, now a city councilman, gave up without a fight. Ball inherited not only that friendly district but the warmest embrace of Drake and the right’s standard-bearers, including U.S. Sen. George Allen and Attorney Gen. Jerry Kilgore. Yet he still lost.
Second, the district is tailor-made for the anti-tax message the Virginia GOP has ridden to dominance. The district includes seven miles of bayfront homes hit with huge real estate assessment increases in the last several years.
Ball relentlessly attacked tax increases secured last winter by Gov. Mark Warner and endorsed by Miller. In daily mail drops, Ball promised even more cuts in car taxes, real estate taxes, the gross receipts tax, and refunds of state surpluses.
That these promises failed to carry him to victory in the conservative 87th District is evidence perhaps that voters are wising up to the right wing’s funny math. Just two of Ball’s ideas, for example, would have cost Norfolk 172 teachers and aides, several dozen deputies and blown a hole so large in Norfolk’s budget that it would have required a 20-cent property tax increase to fill.
For 10 years, the Republican right has pretended that Virginians can have tax cuts without losing essential services. Tuesday’s election suggests that the truth may be catching up with that fantasy. That realization will be tested much more thoroughly in general elections in 11 months.