There are whispers up in Stafford that former Board Chairman Susan Stimpson is considering a primary challenge against Speaker Bill Howell. At present, that might seem odd, but by Primary Day her victory (if it comes) could very well be the best news Republicans have.
As Board Chairman and Member, Stimpson built a record that earned my endorsement for Lieutenant Governor in 2013 (details here). That race was run in the shadow of Bob McDonnell’s transportation tax hike (or, as I’ve called it, Plan ’13 From Outer Space), and it is that tax hike that has led me to hope Susan runs and wins…but not for the reasons most think.
Contrary to what many believe, the argument over that tax hike isn’t quite over, in part because the tax hike itself hasn’t been fully implemented. Given the latest from Mr. Leahy, we can be pretty certain that the wholesale tax on gasoline will increase this January. Given the near complete lack of price elasticity for gasoline below $4/gallon (above that price and it’s a very different story), that means gas prices will jump in January as Republicans argue amongst themselves about whom to blame for it (the leadership of the General Assembly or the leadership in the House of Representatives).
In other words, 2015 will dawn to see Republicans arguing amongst themselves and trying to deflect blame for yet another tax increase…and voters in “off-off-year” elections have been very cruel to tax-hiking Republicans. In 2007, voters reacted to the Republican-drafted HB3202 by handing the State Senate to the Democrats and cutting the GOP’s House majority in half. Four years later, most of Virginia simply went status quo – except for Spotsylvania County, which turfed three incumbent Supervisors in the midst of a local tax revolt, padded up a huge margin for Bryce Reeves in the process, and thus flipped the State Senate practically by itself.
How will these voters – the most continuous, and thus the most knowledgeable, of the electorate – react to another Republican tax increase? To ask the question is to answer it…unless Republicans themselves show they’ve gotten the message. In other words, if Bill Howell doesn’t retire on his own, Republicans in eastern Stafford will have to do it for him.
That may sound ruthless, in no small part because it is. I’ve crossed swords with Howell in the past; that didn’t stop me from noticing when he steered his caucus away from a tax hike in the summer of 2008. I also think his effort to stop Medicaid expansion is underestimated.
However, the Senate majority is at stake again, and we can’t risk voter anger over the last phase of Plan ’13 From Outer Space. Susan Stimpson would be an excellent Delegate, and her nomination would show Virginia voters that the Republican Party is ready to move on from its recent tax-hiking past.
That’s how I see it.