Monthly Archives: March 2005

Trial Lawyers!

Old news perhaps, but news to me. From the folks who tell you that trial lawyers are no good, we have, (sigh, again) this hypocrisy. Seems trial lawyers are OK if you’re the client.

Limited Government?

A Virginian Pilot editorial today about the state GOP’s knotted britches over Russ Potts’ candidacy makes the kind of broad brush statement with which Democrats should take issue.

The overall message [from the party] is that Republicans who don’t hew at all moments to the party’s “low-taxes, limited government” mantra aren’t welcome. Party elders ought to think long and hard about whether that’s a message they want to convey.

In fact, as we’ve seen many times, the GOP is not about limited government. Instead, the GOP is about inserting government into many aspects of our personal lives. The GOP wants government to say who we can marry, who can adopt children, who makes decisions for incapacitated loved ones, whose religion can be injected into public life, what we teach our children about morality, what science is legitimate and a host of other decisions. Moreover, they are willing to spend us into debt to pay for its priorities. The GOP isn’t about limited government and low-taxes; it’s about big government and irresponsible big spending.

It seems the Democrats in Virginia this year would do well to point out that the GOP wants to impose itself into many areas of our personal lives, that the GOP is about Big Brother government run amok. And even in state races as we have this year in the Commonwealth, inserting Congressman Tom DeLay into the campaign speech may well pay dividends.

Two Virginias

A candidate for the Republican Lt. Gov. nomination takes a page from Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. Sean Connaughton sees two Virginias.

The Religious Battle

Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine held a conference call with reporters yesterday to take issue with his opponent in the governor’s race, Jerry Kilgore, for what Kaine perceives as an attack against his Catholicism. In an interview with the DC Examiner, the successor to the Journal newspapers in the DC area (available only in pdf format at this site), Kilgore intimated that Kaine is disingenuous in leaning on his religion to defend his stance against the death penalty.

“He’s had a record of activism against the death penalty. Until it became politically unpopular, he had never mentioned his religion in relation to the death penalty.”

Kaine has invoked his faith frequently during the campaign. He often mentions his service as a missionary in Honduras during his student days. When running for lieutenant governor in 2001, Kaine didn’t refer to his religious beliefs as frequently, reporters who covered that campaign recall.

Kaine has been running radio ads in which he says his core values are “guided by my faith.”

“I have never attacked his religion. Ever,” Kilgore said in the interview with the Washington Examiner. Kilgore supports the death penalty and has been making an issue of Kaine’s opposition. Kilgore is a Baptist.

Maybe Kilgore is not attacking Kaine’s religion, but it’s smart politics on Kaine’s part to make the accusation, as I stated earlier this month.

After all, Kilgore paints citizens opposed to his election as anti-religious, anti-family and anti-democratic.

Kaine also took issue with two Kilgore fund-raising letters, including one dated March 18. It referred to “left-wing activists who don’t share the values of faith, family and freedom that Virginians hold dear.” Then it adds: “Yet that’s where so much of Tim Kaine’s support is coming from.”

Jerry, you can’t claim people who don’t support you are against your faith and then criticize your opponent when he makes the same charge against you.

Kilgore Announces

So now the other guy has formally launched his campaign by trying to outdo his opponent in the “I’ll cut your taxes” race.

Trying to one-up Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, Jerry Kilgore promised to cut property taxes by the tried and true way of Virginia Republicans lately — take the decision away from local officials. From the earliest times in the history of the state, property taxes were assessed not by the state but by local officials. But Jerry Kilgore doesn’t like that tradition. He wants the state to take the decision away from local officials and instill it instead in a referendum. In fact, he wants every tax increase to be subject to a referendum. Ironically, one of the people on the stage with Kilgore yesterday was U.S. Sen. John Warner, who dismissed the idea last year when it was brought up to combat Gov. Warner’s tax plan. No reports that the senator reminded the adoring throngs of that fact.

What form would that referendum take? Who knows? Kilgore is offering few details. We know that he wants to keep assessments increases to no more than 5% But since a 5% increase in assessment would amount to a tax increase, would that decision be subject to a referendum? Would the referendum say this is the tax increase, take it or leave it? Or would there be options, say a 1%, 2% (up to 5%) or none? Could local officials wait for the outcome of the referendum before deciding to increase the rate? Well, probably not, as Jerry also wants any tax increase to be subject to a referendum. Would the referendum be on the total increase (rate plus assessment increase) or just the tax rate? Who knows. Jerry isn’t telling.

He’s left himself an out: Taxes could be raised in an emergency. What’s an emergency? Jerry isn’t telling.

“My opponent, he offers a dishonest plan that fails to address the problem,” he said. “Under my plan, tax relief is not an option left to local officials, it is my promise from me to you.”

Like I said, he doesn’t want that tradition of letting local officials decide. In Fairfax County in 2003, we had two candidates with different tax views. The Republican was soundly defeated after promising to limit property tax increases. But I guess the voters didn’t know better.

Kilgore also pledged to improve the state’s road network by creating regional transportation authorities. He vowed to create a commission to monitor state spending. And he promised to support education by offering better teachers higher pay and creating a new trust fund for school construction and technology.

Regional authorities? How does that raise money for transportation? Another commission. Don’t we already have an entire bureaucracy and the GA to monitor expenses? Offering better teachers higher pay is a great idea. Where will the money come from? Who will judge the teachers? A new education trust fund. Funded how?

We don’t know. Jerry isn’t telling.

We do know that he wants to emulate the borrow and spend agenda of the Bush administration.

Kilgore said he would seek to ease gridlock by creating regional transportation authorities that would be empowered to assess local road needs and borrow money.

Kilgore offered few specifics about how his plans would work.

Left unresolved was a big question about his promise to limit increases in real estate assessments. Neither Kilgore nor his advisers would say whether they also intend to freeze real estate tax rates.

As Jeff Shapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch writes,

Kilgore’s aggressive, populist line on taxes — coming less than a week after Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine proposed allowing localities to exempt from taxation the first 20 percent of the value of any home — is the latest indication that both parties believe taxpayer anger will dominate the campaign for governor.

Because it takes a minimum of three years to revise the constitution, it would be 2008 at the earliest before either candidate’s proposal could take effect. The next governor’s term will end in 2010.

If this becomes a race of who offers the best tax cuts, we haven’t learned anything in four years. I think Kaine, despite his property tax plan, shouldn’t get sucked into a tax question at every stop. He’s got to talk about what Virginia will look like in four years under his leadership and how he will engage citizens to contribute to the solution.

Kilgore, not surprisingly, rejected Kaine’s offer to debate together throughout the state. Though he waxed proudly about his country twang, Kilgore doesn’t want too many people to hear it, apparently.

Meanwhile, Kilgore tried to paint Kaine with Richmond scandals.

“While we were pushing ethics reforms for state government, my opponent was presiding over a government racked by corruption and did nothing,” he said. The scandals, however, occurred after Mr. Kaine left the council when he assumed the lieutenant governorship in 2002.

Now tell me why Kaine shouldn’t be talking about Kilgore’s phone tap scandal or Jerry’s own mother’s scandal?

All in all, this isn’t starting out as a campaign about ideas, ideals, policies or even values. Its about those folks who say “It’s my money and I want to keep it.”


Political Posturing

The term political posturing is often considered negative. But then, the GOP, especially with its latest intrusion into personal matters (see Schiavo case below), has proven its effectiveness. Besides, I agree that placing your policies in a framework of values is not only smart politics, but a fair question for voters to ask. It’s not always about the numbers or policies. People want to know values because they may decide issues that have yet to arise.

Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine has produced radio ads about his values that will air on small market and religious stations.

They feature Kaine in a soliloquy about his upbringing, toiling as a youth in his father’s small Kansas City ironworking shop and his days as a Roman Catholic missionary to Honduras.

“I was taught to be tight with a dollar and watch the bottom line,” Kaine says in the spots. “My core values are grounded in the lessons I learned at home and are guided by my faith.”

The spots conclude: “I’m Tim Kaine. That’s who I am and what I believe.”

That’s smart. People want to know something of where you came from, as that is likely to infuse a lot of political positions. And it makes values personal and real.

Kaine’s team has come up with another good idea.

Democrat Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine on Sunday challenged his likely Republican opponent for governor this November, former state Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, to make joint campaign appearances across Virginia to give voters a chance to compare the two candidates at the same place at the same time.

Kilgore has a reality problem, and he knows it. No, it’s not that he’s out of touch with reality. It’s just that in the flesh and blood, he pales in comparison. Kilgore mannerisms and lack of debating skills are likely to hurt him in a one-on-one arena. My guess he knows it and will steer as far away as possible from such venues.

Kaine is also right to mention the memo spoof by the Kilgore campaign. Kaine should mention “false memos”? Connect them to the CBS memo flap, as much as a stretch that that is. After all, stretching is a Bush communications tenet.

Kaine chided the Kilgore campaign – that formally launches at 5:30 p.m. today at Gate City High School – for circulating a spoof campaign strategy memo designed to look as if it was written by Kaine strategists. The Kilgore- generated “memo” imagined a campaign strategy for Kaine where the Democrat would take different positions on certain issues in different parts of the state, and maligned how Southwest Virginians dress, act and speak.

Here’s the text of what Kilgore’s spokesman Tim Murtaugh sent to reporters.

From: Tim Murtaugh
To: ‘Tim Murtaugh’
Sent: Monday, March 14, 2005 9:00 AM
Subject: URGENT: Internal Kaine Kick-Off Memo Discovered

Reporters –

The Kilgore campaign has unearthed the attached Kaine campaign
memorandum that lays out Tim Kaine’s thoughts and strategies as he
approaches his kick-off. It includes key advice to the Democrat
candidate, depending what region of the state he visits.

While some would say that it would be wiser to keep this to ourselves
in order to “call his shots,” we thought it would be enlightening for
you to see it as well. Because after all, we’re all in this


No attempt to admit the spoof there.

Meanwhile, Sean Connaughton, running for the GOP nomination for lt. gov., and blasted Kaine’s property tax proposal.

“It took Kaine’s campaign for governor finally to get him off the dime and moving on this issue, which Sean Connaughton has recognized, and has acted on, ever since he became chairman-at large of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors more than five years ago,” read a statement released by campaign spokesman Bill Kling on Friday.

Note no criticism of the proposal itself.

The Hampton Roads Daily Press hates it all, while admitting there’s a problem.

Now, in point of fact, higher residential values do create hardships for lower-income or fixed-income older homeowners. But there are ways to sensibly address that. There are caps. One approach involves “circuit breakers,” which limit property tax liabilities to a certain percentage of one’s income.

Or you can provide property tax rebates to low-income homeowners, by way of income tax credits.

Or you can implement deferral programs that allow senior citizens to defer payment on property taxes until their homes are sold – as 24 states already do.

It’s true, as Kaine points out, that many states offer homestead exemptions. But, by far and away, most of these are locked on a fixed amount of money and targeted to those homeowners who genuinely need a break. That is not what Kaine proposes, as it works across-the-board, for millionaires and fixed-income retirees alike.

Tweaking this proposal wouldn’t be a bad idea, but anyone who thinks the hue and cry about property taxes comes only from old folks on pensions is out of touch. But at least limiting exemptions to those who really need it will flush out the “It’s my money and I want to keep it” crowd.

Could it be that the Democratic leadership has come up with a unified strategy? The GOP ignores mainstream Virginians really care about, making them ineffective as legislators who lead a government that intrudes into people’s personal lives.A room full of loud Democrats came out to cheer for their latest candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates.

Earnie Porta announced that he would try to unseat Delegate Michele B. McQuigg, R-Prince William.

Porta’s campaign slogan, “I believe we need more effective representation in Richmond,” drew applause each time he uttered the words at the Occoquan Town Hall on Saturday.

Like any good speechmaker he said the words at the end of every point to motivate his audience of about 75 Democrats.

Porta, a resident of the Town of Occoquan, said if elected in November, he would concentrate on sprawl, education, health care and transportation.

Porta chided the last session of General Assembly for concentrating on the less lofty goals of license plate slogans, bake sale rules, road names and “the subject that recently brought international fame to Virginia, a bill to fine people if their underwear is showing.”

“Now these things are comical,” the 41-year-old Porta said, “but they would be funnier if they were not bracketed by more divisive and mean-spirited legislation that so often seems less aimed at solving problems than at stigmatizing, if not demonizing, some of our very own relatives, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.”

Porta said he wants a House of Delegates that stays out of people’s personal lives, doesn’t meddle in local affairs and works on the serious problems of the Commonwealth.

There is no doubt in my mind that characterizing the GOP as wanting government to intrude on people’s lives is a winning theme. It’s matter of trust. The GOP doesn’t trust people to make personal moral decisions and instead wants government to impose them.


The action by Congressional Republicans is an outrage! As The Washington Post barely touched on, it is first and foremost hypocrisy. What happened about the concerns for state’s rights? Every time a Republican says judges should stay out of certain decisions, we should always bring up this and the 2000 election as evidence that the GOP loves activists judges when they can help them.

As Terri Schiavo’s husband and with full concurrence of her doctors, he should be allowed to make this decision. She has been brain dead for 15 years. It’s not as if she’s going to recover tomorrow, unless by some miracle. If that’s the case, we should leave dead bodies lying around in the hopes that a miracle will cause them to rise from the dead.

It is an abuse of Congressional power. I only hope the courts see it for what it is.

I am disappointed that no Democrat stepped in to stop this legislation.

I feel strongly about this, as my family faced a similar decision. I have an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today about it.

A hearing is set for 3:00 this afternoon.

Update: DC Inside Scoop has the memo purportedly from Sen. Rick Santorum’s office about the politics of this case.

Update 2: Kevin Drum has info on an ABC poll on this issue. Even evangelicals don’t agree with DeLay & Co and they know they’re being pandered to.

Property Tax Proposal

Note: Pardon the lack of posts lately. Been too busy but feeling guilty to for the blank pages here.

Kaine is off and running. I attended the Herndon affair, and I’m glad to see that the promise to address property taxes now has substance.

The property tax issue is a fair one, even more than the car tax ever was. Yes, people hated the car tax because it had to be paid all at once, and fortunately for Gilmore, it is due, at least in Fairfax, at the height of the campaign season.

But the property tax issue is legitimate for older folks on fixed incomes. “Fixed incomes” is a misnomer. Most of us have fixed incomes, of course, and that is the reason property taxes increases gets some traction outside of the geriatric set. But for some older folks whose pensions and Social Security will not likely increase much, 30% annual increases can be a burden.

Kaine’s solution has merit but isn’t perfect (as opposed to any idea I might have, of course).

Finding a way to divorce home tax rates from commercial ones is a sound idea. The markets act independently and should be treated that way. If it takes a constitutional amendment, well, so be it, although I am amazed we need to write it into the constitution, for God’s sake.

But allowing localities to do carve out a homestead exemption is only part of the solution, as Kaine’s proposals recognize. But there’s the rub, of course: The whole program requires a lot of separate acts to occur, which is unlikely.

Making the counties whole for the loss revenue is exactly what Gilmore proposed with his car tax. So instead of a local income, the car tax became a state expense. Kaine is doing much the same with his proposal that the state fully fund the Standards of Quality for education. The loss of property tax income becomes a state expense. And there are no guarantees.

“…[I]f this is to be seriously pursued, we would like to see a constitutional amendment that would require the state to fully fund the SOQs to guarantee that those revenues would be made available to localities. A mere promise would not be enough,” said [Ellen Davenport of the Virginia Association of Counties.]

And a promise would all it would be. Given that Kaine will likely have a GOP-controlled Assembly for at least a few years, what are the chances that they will help him by fully funding the SOQs?

And what does fully funded mean?

Full state funding of the Standards of Quality would relieve localities of an education burden they now pay for, he said. Gov. Mark R. Warner said the standards are fully funded in the recently approved budget.

So Kaine’s role model is telling us not to expect any more money because the SOQs are already fully funded. Many will argue that’s not true, but fully funded is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.

Kilgore’s camp, of course, jumped on the proposal saying it wouldn’t guarantee anything. They’re right. So I guess we can expect something from Jerry that imposes Richmond’s will on localities, eroding further local independence, supposedly a goal of Republicans who want to get government off our backs.

Kaine’s proposal makes the connection between school costs, which is usually at least 50% of a local jurisdiction’s budget, and property taxes. Kilgore disagrees.

“Clearly, the two are not connected, meaning that Kaine’s recommendation, though laudable by itself, is meaningless when it comes to real estate tax relief,” a Kilgore campaign statement said. “By connecting the two, he is openly trying to deceive the people of Virginia.”

No, Kilgore is. He reminds me of Bob Marshall, who made a similar statement at one of the town hall meetings on the budget last year. As I wrote then,

…Del. Bob Marshall sets us straight: “There is no relationship between state taxes and property taxes,” he lectured. He repeated it several times, perhaps hoping we’d be hypnotized into believing it. “Property taxes are based on assessments,” he said.

Duh, yes, but few would be deceived into thinking that localities don’t have to make up what the state denies.

Give Kaine political credit for trying to come up with something that spreads the responsibility — the Assembly to fund the SOQs, local governments for approving and structuring the 20% relief, the voters for passing the amendment and corporations for taking up some of the slack.

For all those players to act the part will take a not so minor miracle, sure, but politically,

“Given Kaine’s record on taxes, the best defense is a good offense, and this is a terrific offense,” [University of Virginia Professor Larry] Sabato said.