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It's starting to look like the Flat-Earth Republicans in Virginia may get their wish. At this writing, former Gov. Jim Gilmore appears to be the GOP's front-runner to win the nomination to run for the U.S. Senate seat of John Warner, who is retiring at the end of his fifth term in the U.S. Senate. That would likely pit Gilmore against former Gov. Mark Warner.
Seeing Gilmore as one of their own, extreme elements of the Republican Party seem to prefer him over other possible players. Meanwhile, Virginia's Democrats must be delighted that Rep. Tom Davis has withdrawn from the race, leaving Gilmore, with his baggage, poised to capture the GOP convention's nomination next summer.
Now, let's hop aboard the Wayback Machine and examine some of that baggage that would come with a Gilmore campaign: In 1997 Gilmore 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 with the car-tax/budget imbroglio. The result was that for the first time in history the Virginia Legislature failed to approve a budget.
Gilmore made enemies who won't forget his moves in the well-publicized Hugh Finn "death-with-dignity" case. Intervening as he did, to play politics in the painful decision to pull the plug, which had been made by a brain-dead man's spouse, was disgusting.
Gilmore acted like a bull in a china shop with the Sally Mann flap he initiated by creating a front-page story that scolded the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' staff for presenting art tantamount to pornography. The problem was that his view was based entirely on just one anonymous tipster's complaint. The governor-turned-art critic apparently wasn't aware of Mann's reputation as one of Virginia's foremost photographers.
Among Gilmore's more puzzling moves was his decision to take on chairmanship of the Republican National Committee. By accepting that job he broke a longstanding custom in the Old Dominion -- sitting governors do not play an obvious role in national politics. 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.
So, with some justification, Gov. Gilmore is remembered for his stubbornness and his awkwardness. Yet his most absurd move of all the Shark Task Force should hardly be forgotten. With four months remaining in his term in office, and his approval ratings plummeting, came news of a pair of shark attacks off the nearby coast. Gilmore sprang into action, creating a task force to examine the issue.
Two months after its launch, former attorney general Mark Earley lost the race to replace Gilmore, handing the keys to the Governor's Mansion to Mark Warner.
The Gilmore Shark Task Force's findings were made public Dec. 14, 2001. The first sentence: "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.
Back to the future, it will be interesting to learn what John Hager, the savvy and moderate chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, thinks of a Gilmore run for the Senate. My prediction is that Hager will not stay in that position if Gilmore actually gets the nomination.
So, with his baggage in tow, what about Gilmore in 2008?
It's difficult to think of any Republican whom Mark Warner who had to clean up his predecessor's budget mess, and did a pretty good job of it according to opinion polls would rather run against. S
F.T. Rea is a longtime resident of Richmond. His art, columns, essays, features and photography have appeared under a variety of mastheads. He also publishes SLANTblog and can be reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.