Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Good Article By the Post

The Washington Post has a must read article by Michael D. Shear taking a look back at the Warner's time in the VA Governor's mansion.

You really get a sense of who Warner is from this article: half-energizer bunny and half Rocky. He is a guy with the deck stacked against him, just keeps coming back with boundless energy.

The article is verbosely titled: Warner's Triumphant Legacy No Easy Feat: Bipartisan-Minded Governor Broke Tax Vow but Revived Va, but once you get beyond the title there is some real meat. Excerpts from the article below:

On the Warner Narrative:

RICHMOND -- Mark Robert Warner, the businessman-turned-politician, faced an immense budget gap, a steep learning curve and a legislature happy to see him fail when he was inaugurated as Virginia's 69th governor in 2002.

Over the next four years, he slashed the state's budget, stumbled repeatedly, proposed two tax increases -- and wound up as one of the most popular governors in the commonwealth's history. In November, Virginians chose a successor who campaigned as the second coming of Mark Warner.

As Warner prepares to deliver his final State of the Commonwealth speech tomorrow before leaving office Saturday, his future in politics could well depend on selling his Virginia story to the nation.

On the Virginia Story:

He turned a $6 billion shortfall in the state budget into a billion-dollar surplus, a narrative he used to re-brand Virginia's Democratic Party as the party of fiscal discipline.

Mayors of rural towns applaud him for creating jobs. Teachers say their schools have more money. Governing Magazine cited his efforts in areas including procurement and technology consolidation as proof that Virginia is better managed than any other state.

More children have insurance. Graduation rates are higher. The state's sprawling and still underfunded Department of Transportation now finishes most projects on time and under budget.

Through it all, Warner faced a hostile legislature controlled by Republicans, whose march to power in the 1990s had swept Democrats from government leadership.

On Raising Taxes and Schlitz beer

To get elected, Warner had looked into the camera and said: "Let me set the record straight: I will not raise taxes." But he concluded that the scope of the state's budget mess -- the shortfall had ballooned to $6 billion -- justified breaking the pledge.

For months, he hosted town-hall meetings across the state, becoming Virginia's PowerPoint governor. He compiled binders listing moderate Republicans he thought he could sway, then wined and dined them. Once, he sent a private helicopter to pick up the Senate's leading Republican and whisk him to a dinner at a Williamsburg resort.

Perhaps fittingly, Warner, who made millions in the early days of the cellular telephone industry, was glued to his cell phone, calling key Republican lawmakers to plot strategy five and six times each day and often late into the night.

Those late-night sessions continue even now. Last month, on the day before his final budget speech, Warner invited his finance chief and two of his key allies in the tax fight -- Sen. John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland) and Sen. William C. Wampler Jr. (R-Bristol) -- to the governor's mansion, where the four drank Wild Irish Rose and Schlitz Malt Liquor and ate from a box of Slim Jims until late into the night.

In 2004, the one-on-one efforts paid off -- barely. After a long stalemate, the legislature narrowly approved a plan to raise $1.5 billion more in taxes over the next two years.

On Warner's Gut, Energizer Bunny and Kaine's Victory

Early in 2005, the private polls looked ominous.

Not for Warner, whose popularity was soaring after his victory in the tax fight. But for Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, the lieutenant governor, who was trailing Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) in the contest for governor.

Warner had to make a decision: Back Kaine heartily and risk political damage if he lost, or play down his support for Kaine early.

He chose the former, for the second time betting against conventional wisdom in Richmond. On the campaign trail, he was more obsessive than Kaine. At parades, he shook more hands and frequently egged Kaine on. In the motorcades, he whipped out his cell phone to demand more information from staffers, while the more mellow -- and less worried -- Kaine grabbed some shut-eye.

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