The news of Sheila Crump Johnson endorsing Bob McDonnell for Governor almost immediately put the spotlight on another prominent African-American Virginian: former Governor and former Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder (Washington Times):
Another prominent black Virginian, former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, said in an interview Monday that political operatives for President Obama are urging him to get behind Mr. Deeds.
“I told them, ‘You need to tell me why,’ ” said Mr. Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor and author of Virginia’s one-gun-a-month law, which Mr. Deeds opposed as a legislator.
Naturally, the leftosphere has been bashing Wilder for some time. At first I figured it was just the usual lefty nonsense, but then it occurred to me that the blogosphere in general is quite young – especially here in Virginia – perhaps too young to remember Wilder’s remarkable term as Governor. Without that critical piece of information, Wilder’s entire post-Governor career looks like one large ego trip, but for those of us who remember Virginia between 1990 and 1994, Wilder’s actions since then are perfectly in line with the person he is: namely, one of the last Democrats in Virginia who genuinely believes in limited government and low taxes.
When Wilder took office in 1990, he faced a state budget with a yawning deficit, and economy tipping into recession, and a choice between his plans for more spending and his promise not to raise taxes. For nearly every other politician in America, the ending of this story is well known: a speech explaining why “essential” government programs must be preserved, a lot of hand-wringing, and the breaking of the promise to the voters to leave their wallets alone. In fact, just that summer, President Bush the Elder was taking this well-worn path.
Here’s the thing: Wilder didn’t. To the surprise of nearly everyone – and the fury of his fellow Democrats in the state legislature – Wilder deferred his spending plans and refused to raise taxes. The intraparty anger was so high that Republicans – despite miniscule minorities in the General Assembly and Wilder’s presence in the Governor’s chair – actually made record gains as a result of the 1991 redistricting.
Much of that history is lost – in part because of Wilder’s presidential campaign, but far more so because Republicans (for partisan reasons) and Democrats (for ideological reasons) never want to give Wilder the credit he is due. However, the fact is that only one Democrat has refused to raise taxes as Governor of Virginia over the last forty years: and that Democrat is Doug Wilder.
Once that is remembered, Wilder’s actions since leaving office in 1994 make perfect sense. In 1995, when General Assembly Democrats were desperate to preserve their majorities by lambasting the tax cuts championed by then-Governor George Allen, Wilder refused to join them (Allen himself made it clear what he thought of his predecessor’s economic record by keeping most of his financial/economic appointees in place). The voters were with Allen, but the Dems managed to turn a 48% minority into a 52-seat majority (the State Senate was split 20-20).
Two years later, when Don Beyer (Wilder’s LG) tried to run defending the car tax and all the spending that came with it, Wilder took a pass; Beyer went down to ignominious defeat.
In 2001, Wilder endorsed Mark Warner, who was facing a very economically unsteady Mark Earley, but three years later, when Warner rammed his $1.5B tax increase through the legislature, Wilder dramatically rescinded the endorsement. A year later (2005), forced to choose between two candidates apparently comfortable with tax increases, party loyalty won out again.
I’m not sure 2009 will be like 2005 and 2001. Already, Bob McDonnell has shown himself to be different. The one area where he flirted with tax increases before (transportation) has turned into the one area where he (McDonnell) has been the most far-sighted and creative (to the point of dusting off one of the most valuable recommendations of Wilder’s old Commission – privatizing liquor sales). Meanwhile, Deeds’ record is so tax-hike-heavy it groans.
It’s no wonder the Democrats haven’t been able to convince Wilder to back Creigh Deeds. Honestly, I doubt they ever will.