June Column From the Chair

As Gov. Kaine announced a special transportation session and Mark Warner trotted out to an 18-point lead, I found myself thinking of 1993. In the summer of 1993, I was appointed to serve as a twenty-two year-old Governor’s Fellow. I found myself assigned to follow the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles. “Don’t worry,” they said. “He’s an up and comer.”
Turns out they had me following Bill Leighty. A former Deputy Transportation Secretary to Vivian Watts and a constant vortex of ideas, passion, can-do optimism, and raw energy who ended up serving as Chief of Staff to both Governor Warner and Governor Kaine. No one knows state government better.
That summer, Bill was very exercised about transportation revenues. On one slow day, he gave me a JLARC study on gas tax revenue and told me to read it front to back. Today all I remember is that the Transportation Trust Fund was running out of money and that a gas tax increase was needed – this was fifteen years ago in 1993.
It is truly amazing that Virginia’s Republicans’ have escaped ultimate accountability, a philosophy that results in hay growing in our medians and bridge collapses in some states, especially considering that Virginia’s transportation revenue shortfall has been acknowledged for nearly half my lifetime. In the legal world, we would call Republican legislators’ behavior malpractice, in the Republican world they call it “conservativism.”
I also remember reading about this retired Congressman that summer – some guy named George Allen – who started that summer trailing eight-year-incumbent Mary Sue Terry in the polls by 29%. In June, Terry led 49%-31%. By November, Allen with help from Ollie North, punched, kicked, rumor-milled, and brawled his way to a 58%-41% win. He went from 18% down to 17% up – a 35% flip.
I am not worried about Gov. Mark Warner, but we all must remember to never take anything for granted or to let our guard down. The polls might look good, but we must earn every vote. There is much work to be done this November.
Let’s get started.