Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Where's Jaws?

by F. T. Rea

It’s summertime and Virginians are entering the troubled waters of a gubernatorial election. How many televised debates will there be? Who is the true tax-cutter? Which campaign will stoop the lowest? Here we go again. As Virginia is the only state to forbid a sitting governor to run for reelection, every four years we elect a new one, whether we want to, or not. Generally, Virginians don’t mind being the only folks to do something, so don‘t expect this to change soon.

And, just as it was four years ago, sharks are biting people, again. Why? Is it a coincidence? What’s to be done? Where’s former Virginia governor James S. “Jaws” Gilmore III when we need him? After all, it was the semi-visionary Jim Gilmore who once launched a commission, a Shark Task Force, to study the peril of shark attacks on Virginians.

That was the late-summer of 2001, in the winding down of Gilmore’s term in office, when his own dismal disapproval ratings were hurting the gubernatorial campaign of his still-loyal sidekick Mark Earley. By the way, the then-candidate for Attorney General, Jerry Kilgore, broke with Gilmore on his by then-unpopular inflexible stand on the car-tax issue.

With the news of a pair of shark attacks off the nearby coast, Gilmore must have thought he heard opportunity knocking on the door. Immediately, the semi-savvy player donned a pith helmet and shark-hunting khaki outfit to strike a pose.

Standing in defiance of an enemy that no one could possibly defend, Gilmore must have imagined his popularity would soon soar again. Note: Washington Business Journal (SEPT. 5, 2001): “In response to the recent shark attacks at Virginia Beach and in North Carolina, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has convened a task force to examine the issue. The shark task force will be headed by Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley, State Del. Terrie Suit (R-Virginia Beach) and several marine experts... Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently said that the media attention to the recent spate of attacks is overblown.”

Blithely ignoring the sitting president’s brother, Gilmore likely cocked his pith helmet to one side, to listen to what sounded like, “Knock, knock.”

In 1997 Gilmore had galloped to triumph with his No-More-Car-Tax mantra. Virginians liked his blue collar style. Then, as governor, he stubbornly stayed on that same tired workhorse issue through his four-year term, until it collapsed in a heap in the spring of 2001. Meanwhile, Gilmore’s handling of the Hugh Finn right-to-die-with-dignity case was diabolically clumsy; his handling of the Sally Mann censorship flap at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was bull-in-a-china-shop clumsy. With some justification Governor Gilmore is remembered for his stubbornness and his awkwardness, rather than his bold Shark Task Force.

“Knock, knock....”

“Who’s there?” Gilmore may have whispered, thinking he heard the shark musical theme from “Jaws” playing in the background.

Earley lost in Virginia, handing the keys to the Governor’s Mansion to Democrat Mark Warner. Gilmore wasn’t National Chairman of the Grand Old Party long enough to do much more than be remembered for being fired, and, of course, denying that he was fired. Note: USA Today (Nov. 30, 2001): “Gilmore resigned, effective in January, saying he wasn't willing to commit to the extensive travel and time away from family required to prepare for the 2002 elections. He leaves after less than a year in office, a period marked by disappointing elections...”

Well, as history unfolded, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 overshadowed all else in the news for a long time. So, lame duck Gilmore and his Virginia Shark Task Force’s findings were ignored on December 14, 2001. Furthermore, the first sentence of the VSTF report sort of made it unnecessary to read the rest of it. Note: “In more than 390 years since the English settlement of Virginia there had never been a fatal shark attack in Virginia waters until September 1, 2001 when a 10-year old boy named David Peltier was attacked near the Little Island Fishing Pier at Sandbridge...” The report went on to say that sharks usually live in the ocean and every now and then one of them bites a person who is also in the ocean.

But even if Gilmore’s expertise in preventing shark attacks is not much use, there are always more elections to be botched. So, don’t be surprised to see the old shark hunter himself wading in, awkwardly, to drag down yet another fellow Republican’s gubernatorial campaign. If Gilmore’s enthusiasm for candidate Jerry Kilgore turns out to be tepid, remember where you read it first.

Why would Gilmore want to do that? What’s he got against Kilgore? Well, it says here that Gilmore is still unhappy with some Virginia Republicans about some old business. Still, whether he’s got anything specific against Kilgore, or not, may not matter. If Gilmore already senses that Kilgore is going to lose to Tim Kaine -- and at this point that seems to be more likely than not -- the former governor might just see some gain from never having been on the Kilgore bandwagon at all. Especially, if Kilgore loses bad, and, he might.

Later, with Kaine in office, giving the Democrats two consecutive terms, Gilmore might believe he would then be in a better position to run for governor next time around. Yes, I think he means to put on that man-of-adventure khaki outfit, again, and run for governor in 2009.

Soon, late at night, Gilmore may hear a familiar sound. “Knock, knock...”

“Who’s there?” Gilmore might ask.

From the other side of the door the shark music is there, again, but maybe this time there will be more -- a tentative male voice with a somewhat effeminate mountain twang saying, “Candygram.”

-- 30 --

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