U.S. Senate, Virginia, 2008

Incumbent Senator John Warner (R) is retiring, leaving an open race for his replacement in one of Virginia’s two U.S. Senate seats. Two former Virginia governors—Governor Jim Gilmore (R) and Governor Mark Warner (D) (no relation to outgoing Senator Warner)—are vying for the seat, joined by third-party candidates Gail Parker (IG) and William Redpath (L). Senators serve six-year terms.

Parker’s campaign under the Independent Green banner—like her campaign for the Senate in 2006—is a laughable exercise in futility. I enjoy third-party campaigns, and would seriously consider voting for a viable third-party candidate, but Parker’s platform revolves entirely around two issues: fiscal conservatism and passenger rail. I have nothing against fiscal conservatism, and indeed nothing against increasing passenger rail service provided it is funded primarily by private investors. Parker does not present coherent plans for accomplishing these two goals, however, nor does she present any views at all about any other issues.

Redpath, a Libertarian, presents a much more rational and considered third-party campaign. “The core philosophy of the [Libertarian] Party,” says Redpath, “is that people should be able to live their own lives as they choose, without interference, as long as they do not harm other people or their property.” This general attitude has always appealed to me, though I do believe the Libertarian Party tends to go too far.

Redpath plans to stabilize the economy in-part by significantly reducing government spending, to fundamentally reform the tax laws and replace our tiered tax system with a simple flat tax, to reduce or eliminate trade tariffs in an effort to establish world-wide free trade, to reform Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, and to establish a consumer-driven private health insurance system. Redpath also advocates the elimination of federal drug laws, online gambling laws, and other laws that overstep federal Constitutional authority. These are issues that are the responsibility of the states. However, Redpath also supports a near-immediate withdrawal from Iraq—a plan that would result in the catastrophic collapse of that country’s fledgling Democracy and the establishment of a new radical Muslim state. As Iraq is a central issue of this campaign, and Redpath is terribly wrong about it, his otherwise-impressive platform is a non-starter.

Gilmore, the Republican candidate, was governor of Virginia from 1998-2002 (Virginia has a gubernatorial term limit of one consecutive term, so he was ineligible to run for reelection). He was elected by a 56 percent vote primarily on one promise: he would eliminate the duplicitous car tax, a broadly-despised annual tax levied on all motor vehicles in the Commonwealth. Gilmore successfully pushed car tax reduction legislation through the then-Democratically-controlled General Assembly with a phased elimination over five years, but that phase-out was never completed. Gilmore, who left office with his own party holding a solid majority in both houses of the General Assembly, failed to assure the fulfillment of the biggest promise he made to Virginians when he was elected. Today, we still pay the car tax . . . and we still hate it.

Gilmore’s other claim to fame as Governor of Virginia was the establishment of the Virginia Standards of Learning. The SOLs, a state-wide system of tests to measure student achievement in Virginia’s public schools, were a good idea but horribly implemented. Schools were not given enough time to acclimate to the new requirements. Test procedures were rigid. The tests were administered on the same day of the year regardless of the school’s individual schedule (so some schools were further into their semesters than others). Tests included an incredible number of questions about obscure and esoteric facts that students should not have been expected to be able to answer. All these errors resulted in a ‘teach to the test’ mentality in our schools, thus squandering any potential academic benefits.

Gilmore also artificially reduced public college/university tuition in the state by 20 percent. This made our public colleges more affordable in the short term, but damaged their ability to budget and adjust year-to-year in the long term and led to incredible tuition increases immediately after Gilmore left office.

Governor Gilmore’s record is a one that consistently demonstrates well-intentioned ineptitude. He botched the elimination of the car tax, botched the implementation of the Standards of Learning tests, and botched higher education tuition control. He was unable to rally his own party to tackle Northern Virginia’s transportation nightmare, let alone bring Democrats to the table.

On the issues, Gilmore presents a good, conservative platform of protecting our right to keep and bear arms, securing America’s borders, cracking down on illegal immigration, moving toward energy independence, lowering taxes, and protecting the United States from radical Islamic terrorism. He also wants to improve education and initiate health care reforms. Based on his track record of ineffective leadership for the people of Virginia, however, I sincerely doubt that he will be any more effective in advancing these noble goals in the U.S. Senate.

And that leaves only one remaining candidate: former Governor Mark Warner. Warner, a businessman who was an investor in many technology firms during the 1990s before entering elective politics, has carefully crafted a reputation as a moderate pragmatist. During his 2002-2006 term as governor, Warner maintained high approval ratings in a state that had previously appeared to be a Republican stronghold (the Virginia gubernatorial term limit mentioned earlier made him ineligible to run for reelection).

While some of Warner’s policies as governor were an anathema to strong conservatives—particularly his tax increases and failure to complete Gilmore’s promised car tax phase-out—it is hard to argue with success. Through his term, Virginia’s budget stayed balanced in the face of economic uncertainty and the state maintained its AAA bond rating (the highest possible). While Virginia’s transportation infrastructure is in shambles, Warner initiated a major reform of the Virginia Dept. of Transportation and improved accountability at the beleaguered agency. In 2001, during the Gilmore administration, VDOT completed 50 percent of their projects on-budget and a dismal 21 percent on-time. When Warner left office in 2006 this had improved to 88 percent on-budget and 82 percent on-time.

If elected, Warner plans to pursue a new energy policy that focuses on renewable energy and eliminates our dependence of foreign oil. He wants to make sure all Americans have access to affordable health care (though he presents no details on how he would tackle this issue). He would focus on improving our nation’s aging transportation infrastructure nationwide. Best of all, Warner—unlike many of his Democratic Party brethren—does not advocate a dangerous Iraq withdrawal, but instead seeks to work with our military leaders to develop a disentanglement plan. This plan would not involve an artificial time-line.

My biggest concern about Warner is that he is, indeed, a Democrat. He will likely support many Democratic big-government initiatives that will ultimately lead to higher taxes. In a perfect example of his willingness to abandon his claimed mantle of ‘fiscal conservatism’, Warner openly and actively supported the ill-advised socialist Wall St. bailout plan that put over 700 billion dollars of your tax dollars toward an interventionist economic policy. If elected, Warner must oppose any further moves toward socialist interventionism by our government and must defend the free market economy that made him rich and led to his political success.

In Virginia, Warner was an imperfect but effective leader who was able to bring Democrats and Republicans to the table on a number of critical issues. I have no doubt he will do the same in Washington. I endorse the election of Mark Warner as U.S. Senator from Virginia.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.