But if there’s a fishy guy in the race to win the seat of Sen. John Warner, who is retiring after five six-year terms, it is most certainly Jim Gilmore, himself. Almost seven years ago, when his own dismal disapproval ratings as governor were below sea level, he launched a commission, a Shark Task Force, to study the peril of shark attacks on Virginians.
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 an imaginary pith helmet and khaki shark-hunting 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.
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 might have 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 seemed to like 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.
So, with some justification the former Gov. Gilmore is remembered by many Virginians for his stubbornness and his awkwardness. Still, his boldest move of all -- the Shark Task Force -- should not be forgotten.
“Who’s there?” Gilmore may have whispered, thinking he heard the shark musical theme from the movie “Jaws” playing in the background. Maybe a good omen?
Two months after the launching of Gilmore’s Shark Task Force, Republican candidate Mark Earley lost in Virginia, handing the keys to the Governor’s Mansion to 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.
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:
“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.
Late one Saturday night, soon, a sleeping Jim Gilmore may hear a familiar sound. “Knock, knock...”
Putting his ear to the door, the former shark task force commander will ask, “Who’s there?”
From the other side of the door the shark music will be there, again, louder this time. But in his dream there will be more -- a voice! Does it sound a little bit like former state Sen. John Chichester?