Friday, October 26, 2007

Gilmore the darling of Flat-Earth Republicans

It’s starting to look like the Flat-Earth Republicans in Virginia may get their wish.

At this writing former governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore appears to be the betting favorite to win the GOP’s nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat of John Warner. Should Gilmore get the nod from next summer's Republican convention that would likely pit him against another former governor of Virginia, Mark Warner.

The Aug. 31st announcement of Sen. Warner's decision to retire at the end of his fifth term in the U.S. Senate created an opening that sent the commonwealth's political operators scrambling. Democrat Mark Warner wasted little time in announcing he would seek the office. With the recent withdrawal of Rep. Tom Davis from the race, Gilmore now appears to embody the GOP's best hope to hold onto the seat.

Last year's loss by the supposedly invincible incumbent George Allen to author Jim Webb, heaped on top of two consecutive gubernatorial losses, has put Virginia's Republicans into an uncooperative mood. Bickering to do with ideology and issues of purity are dividing them once again.

Thus, with the commonwealth trending Democratic, rather than move toward respected moderates such as John Warner and Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Hager, it appears the hardcore rightwingers of the GOP are calling the tune. Convinced they lost the statewide elections mentioned above because their candidates were insufficiently conservative, such ideologues routinely refer to realists along the lines of Warner and Hager as “Republicans-in-name-only,” or “RINOs.”

Meanwhile, the Democrats have to be delighted at the prospect of facing a man with Gilmore's peculiar baggage. Let's hop aboard the Wayback Machine and examine some of what would come tumbling back into the picture with a Gilmore campaign:

Ten years ago Gilmore galloped to triumph with his No-More-Car-Tax mantra. In a time of plenty many Virginians liked his blunt, blue collar style. Then, as governor, he stubbornly stayed on that same tired workhorse issue throughout his four-year term until it collapsed in a heap in the spring of 2001.

In a time of belt-tightening, Gilmore's style of leadership meant that for the first time in history the Virginia legislature failed to approve a budget.

Gilmore made enemies who won't forget his cynical moves in the Hugh Finn death-with-dignity case. Intervening, as he did, to play politics with a spouse's decision of when to pull the plug on her brain-dead husband, was embarrassing to many Virginians.

With the Sally Mann flap, Gilmore played the rube by creating a sensational front-page story scolding the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' staff for presenting art tantamount to pornography. The problem was Gilmore's quick-draw opinion was based entirely on one anonymous tipster's complaint; he apparently wasn't aware of Mann's reputation as one of Virginia's foremost photographers.

Also among Gilmore's puzzling political moves was his decision to take on the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. By accepting that job from the Bush administration he broke with a longstanding custom in the Old Dominion -- sitting governors do not play such an obvious role in national politics. Then he wasn't chairman long enough to do much more than be remembered for being fired, and, of course, denying that he was fired.

So, with some justification Gilmore's reputation for awkwardness has been well earned. Yet, his most absurd move of all -- the Shark Task Force -- should hardly be overlooked. With his popularity plummeting and four months remaining in his term came news of a pair of shark attacks off the nearby coast. Gilmore thought knew an enemy no one could defend when he saw one.

From the 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 Gilmore Shark Task Force's findings were made public on Dec. 14, 2001. The first sentence of the report 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. Ouch!

If the still popular Mark Warner could choose an opponent to run against in 2008 from a menu of Republican possibles -- the one that would be the easiest and most fun to beat -- it says here he would pick the Shark Task Force's commander-in-chief, Jim Gilmore.

1 comment:

Sisyphus said...

Thanks for the refresher course on Gilmore. I had almost forgotten what a real wingnut he is.