Harrisonburg: Republicans for Warner

Story by Chris Graham

The press release billed the event as being the launch of something to be called Virginians for Warner, and let us know that former Republican state senator John Chichester was going to be tagging along with his friend from across the aisle.

It didn’t say anything about the gaggle of other Republicans who would be grabbing a hot dog at Jess’ Quick Lunch in Downtown Harrisonburg with Senate Democratic Party candidate Mark Warner.

Or the man in the elephant costume handing out American flags to passersby.

“We’re at that moment for our country where we need to do a lot more of this. Both sides need to find that common ground,” said Warner, a former Virginia governor who has built up a commanding lead in the polls in his U.S. Senate race with another former governor, Republican Jim Gilmore. The lead is based in large part on the reputation that Warner earned in following Gilmore in the governor’s mansion in fixing the economic and fiscal crisis in Richmond that he inherited from the Gilmore administration.

“What is it about Mark Warner that makes me think that he could be that kind of United States senator? Let me tell you something. I harken back to August of 2003 when Moody’s rating service said that Virginia is scheduled for a downgrade in its bond rating, the triple-A bond rating that we had had since 1938. The first to get it after the Great Depression, and we’d had it ever since then. We were scheduled to a downgrade with a negative outlook. Gov. Warner knew it. I knew it as chairman of the Finance Committee. Vince (Callahan, who was also on hand for today’s event in Harrisonburg) knew it as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. We needed to solve this problem. It was no more Democrats then, no more Republicans. We were all Virginians facing that crisis,” said Chichester, who retired from the Senate earlier this year after serving nearly three decades in the Virginia General Assembly.

“In it we got, up to our necks. And we fought about it, all hours of the night. No, it wasn’t in the press. No, it wasn’t in front of everybody to see. All the fussin’ and feudin’ went on in the basement of the governor’s mansion and on the first floor, and we did a lot of that, but so what? It came out solved, and our triple-A bond rating was restored after the session. No more negative outlook. We did things for higher education that we’d not been able to do. We did things for health care and human services that we’d not been able to do. We were able to keep up with public safety, which had fallen back. We were able to give state employees a raise that they hadn’t seen in three years. And it was not a painful thing to do,” Chichester said.
“We’ve got a problem in Washington. It’s huge. And who do you look for? You look for someone who’s tried, someone who’s tested. You need someone who’s been on the firing line. Doesn’t make taking the shots, doesn’t mind calling the shots and making the tough decisions and implementing. The only person I can think of in this campaign to do that is Mark Warner,” Chichester said.

Callahan echoed those comments and sentiments. He noted his service with 11 Virginia governors in his 40 years in the House of Delegates. “That ought to make me a good judge of what makes a good governor,” Callahan said. “The true test of a political leader and someone serving in public office is how they react in a time of crisis. And Mark Warner inherited a crisis in Virginia, and he confronted it with a sense of statesmanship, but most of all, he was able to work both sides of the aisle, and that’s something missing in recent years, both in Virginia and at the national level. To get Democrats and Republicans together to craft a package to get us out of a hole is something that if he had not done, we’d all be in trouble,” Callahan said.

Retired Winchester Republican state senator Russ Potts was also a key player in the 2003-2004 budget rescue. He said Warner “represents the values and the principles of the Mountain Valley Republicans.” “If you travel around Virginia, a lot of people don’t know the definition of that,” Potts said. “Well, a lot of people in this room understands the definition of a good Mountain Valley Republican, who plays it down the middle and uses good common sense to do the right thing, not the expedient thing. That’s the kind of governor Mark Warner was, and that’s the kind of United States senator that he’ll be. And goodness knows that at this juncture in the history of this great country that we love so much that we desperately need a great leader in Washington, D.C., like Gov. Warner,” Potts said.

Former Rockingham County Republican state delegate Clinton Miller also endorsed Warner. “I think it’s important to support somebody with a broad intellect who has the ability to apply the proper analysis to the problems that we have in the world today, and Mark certainly has that,” Miller said. “We need to support people who are not tied down to any particular doctrine and who are not encumbered by a particular party doctrine or philosophy that doesn’t allow them to reach across the aisle and work with other people. It’s very, very important that our leaders, not only here in the state, but in the Congress and the presidency, are able to work with people with opposing viewpoints without the rancor that we have seen, especially in the last few years. Mark Warner has that ability. He showed it as governor of Virginia. He can work with members of both parties. His opponent, with all due respect, had some not small difficulty working with his own party. That’s a test of leadership, and that’s why I’m supporting Mark Warner, and that’s why I think all of us are supporting him.”

Former Waynesboro-Augusta County Republican state delegate Pete Giesen as well threw his support to Warner. “We need in this country to reach out and be economically independent and know what we’re facing in a world market. He understands that. I’m not sure that his opponent does. And like Clinton, I think that his opponent sometimes gets too ideological even for some of us Republicans,” Giesen said. “Mark has that common sense that will do well in Washington as it did in Richmond. He served us well there, and hopefully if he gets to go to Washington, he can inject some common sense there, too,” Giesen said.

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