While Mother Nature freezes out the Middle Atlantic, a less elemental and less merciful force buffets Virginia. It comes in the form of John Chichester, state Senator from Northumberland (and formerly Stafford), whose repeated demands for tax increases is I suspect less a desire to fix transportation issues than yet another example of his desire to run things. His actions are a slap in the face to all Virginians, except since the democrats stand to benefit politically they will play along.
Now you may agree with his ideas about transportation funding, and that is fine. However, it becomes clear that the manner in which he pursues these policies is less about helping the state than stoking John Chichester’s ego…and that technique is a study in small mindedness, not a profile in courage.
The Chichester saga is an interesting one, and is a tale of repeated efforts to be the big man, driving off the road, then having someone older and wiser resuscitate him…except now when The Chich should be the older and wiser one there is no one he will listen to. Sometimes it seems his fiscal fandangos are just another of a long list of attempts to do things his way come hell or high water.
His conduct in the latest transportation budget fracas offends me. Chichester knew for weeks there was a compromise being worked by the GOP-the party he belongs to, and which he once represented on a statewide ticket. Even if he disagreed with the House plan, he should have stood up early and said he couldn’t back it and would offer an alternative. Instead, he waited until the plan was introduced in committee, whacked it, and offered his own plan. Such a tactic by a member of the Democratic Party would be one thing-one political party does not owe the opposition any cooperation. But Chichester-he still has that big “R” after his title of “Senator”. Yep, the fact is he acted as if he was not a member of the GOP, and one might say for that reason alone he should be primaried.
Chichester’s conduct also offends me as his plan and the House plan do not necessarily work at cross purposes. The House GOP plan could be passed this year to jump start construction and maintenance-taking advantage of the huge surpluses the state now enjoys-while also setting up a long term dedicated source of road funding. But that would mean actually working in concert with other GOP folks, and not having them come begging to him for his approval.
Senator John runs some canards in support of his plan, and is not being completely truthful. He says the state needs a dedicated source of road funding-true. He says money should not come out of the general fund to fund roads to the detriment of other fundamental state programs-true. He claims the GOP bill would do just that-false. The state has run massive surpluses the last two years…which means it had tons of money left over after all fundamental responsibilities had been taken care of-which means that the various fundamental responsibilities were fully funded and there was still money left over!
Oh, and why were there massive surpluses? Because of the 2005 tax increase he masterminded. But of course the additional story there is that there would be a surplus anyway even without the tax increase, a tax increase that was not needed to keep the state AAA rating as Senator Chich and Governor Warner claimed.
Chichester’s modus operandi through all this has been a damn the torpedoes desire to do everything just as he wants to. He has always been this way, except now state transportation is held hostage to his legendary capriciousness.
Consider his political start-up. Chichester came out of college, got into the insurance business of his Uncle Daniel Chichester. Dan-who will be referred to here as Uncle Dan so as to differentiate him from long time Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Daniel Chichester-was a two term member of the Virginia House of Delegates in the 1920’s and for thirty years the Secretary of the Stafford County Democratic Party. At a time when JFK was the national role model and Virginia was still massively conservative, John C. adopted the JFK hairstyle and the JFK politics, tried for a nomination to the House of Delegates on the democratic ticket, and was whacked due to his headstrong manner and his-for Virginia-moderate to liberal politics.
Having refused Uncle Dan’s help, he now came back to the fold and over a decade resuscitated his rep. The political spectrum in Virginia changed, and Chichester and others changed to the GOP…and it was from the GOP in a 1978 special election John won election to the Virginia State Senate to replace long time and recently deceased state Senator Paul Manns. The Chich won a four year term in 1979, and has won almost every election he has run in since then…
…except for his unfortunate Lt. Governor candidacy in 1985. He was the one sure thing on the GOP ticket-he was going to whoop Doug Wilder…except he didn’t. Wilder won an upset victory by running a smarter campaign and being willing to do the unconventional. Chichester would not. He would not attack Wilder’s record, he would not give his campaign staff adequate room to do their jobs; he would do nothing that forced him outside of his comfort zone. I was told by a former staffer that in the two months running up to the election if there was a toss-up between appearing in or near Fredericksburg or going to some lesser place like, say, NoVA or Hampton Roads, he would always stay close to home.
So he lost…in an election where anything less than victory would be interpreted as crushing defeat. But sometime later, as he licked his wounds, he came under the tutelage of Hunter Andrews, Hampton Roads democrat and the legendary and autocratic head of the State Finance committee. Andrews took The Chich on as a protégé, schooling him in the fine points of state finance and-apparently-also in legislative people skills.
Andrews was beaten in 1995, but his pupil was there to carry on the banner of a brand of fiscal conservatism…that has morphed into something else. When the GOP took the General Assembly majority, Chichester took the Chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee.
Note: for those tuning in late, the Finance committee in either house deals with raising money, while the Appropriations committee spends the money.
So now his career has come full circle-the Kennedy liberal of the early 1960’s is now claiming to be the fiscal conservative of 2007…but we all know that is not the truth. Fiscal conservatism not only means spending only the money you have, it means only taxing to get the money that is needed. Chichester is running some hybrid operation that owes less to a devotion to a Byrd Machine fiscal conservatism he never followed and more to an innate desire to be the big dog on the block, coupled with an unwillingness to fight unless the odds are heavily in his favor…and once they tip out of his favor, he hides. Anyone who doubts that should review his conduct in 1985.
The Chich is so desirous of having things his own way he will often do the outrageous to make it happen-as long as he is insulated from damage. The current budget fandango is just the latest example. Perhaps the first and still most vivid example of this trait was seen in the early 1980’s during the ERA approval process.
Under the Virginia constitution approval of Federal constitutional amendments must be by an absolute majority-at least 21 in the Senate, and at least 51 in the house. The Senate was split dead even, but after 1977 there was a democrat serving as Lt Gov, so a 20-20 tie could go to the Lt. Governor for a tiebreak, giving the amendment the necessary 21 votes.
Typically, anti ERA folks would make sure someone was not there to vote on ERA day, so even if the approving bill passed 20-whatever it could not become law. However, as the ERA approached it’s deadline there was massive pressure for all legislators to cast a vote. Thus it came about that in 1980 the ERA failed in the Virginia Senate by a vote of 20-19, with one legislator abstaining. That one legislator was John Chichester, who claimed he could not vote due to a conflict of interest.
The conflict? His wife was a woman. Chichester later admitted what everyone knew…there was no actionable conflict, he just wanted to derail the bill…and since his district was completely against ERA approval, they would applaud anything he did to stop it.
Outrageous and insulated, indeed.
So I watch John Chichester in all this and I am offended, and I sense he has slapped the state in the face. He claims to be a fiscal conservative, yet wants to jam through another tax increase for transportation when the state has hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus after fully funding all other responsibilities. He claims to be desirous of a more harmoniously functioning General Assembly, and then goes out of his way to work in such a way as to guarantee there will be no harmony. He claims to be a member of the GOP, and yet works not only to subvert GOP legislation and in doing so attempts to create a campaign issue for the Democrats in the fall elections.
You may agree with him the issues, you may not. But the manner in which he goes about pushing his “legislative agenda” is not about the welfare of the citizens of Virginia, it is about the care and feeding of John Chichester’s ego.
The legislature can pass a one time fund infusion and also a long term reserved fund plan. I have yet to see where the two concepts cannot co-exist. Except for one thing…this is not what John Chichester wants. It is his plan or no plan
I suggest this is not the mindset of a member a legislature who wants to create progress in the Commonwealth and harmony in the chamber.
It is the immature mindset of a man who has always wanted to do things his own way despite all counsel and advice…except now there is no counsel he will listen to…except his own ego.