Most Californians would love to have a governor who could turn a $6 billion
deficit into more than a half-billion-dollar surplus. Or one who could
persuade a hostile Legislature to compromise on an unpopular car tax,
gaining a 75 percent approval rating in the process.
Such a guy was in California last week. But depending on whom you ask,
former Virginia Governor Mark Warner represents either the Democrats’ best
hope at retaking the White House in 2008 or its worst fear about the future of the party.
“If the Democratic Party is looking for someone who will check every box on
traditional Democratic values, I’m not the guy,” Warner said, who was in
Sacramento promoting his Forward Together PAC, which promotes pro-business
Warner is the current darling of the Anybody-but-Hillary-Clinton wing of the
Democratic Party. Even though he has not formally declared for the
presidency, he embraces the “electability” label he gets as a pro-business,
pro-gun former Southern governor.
But he also draws occasional comparisons to Bob Casey, the centrist Democrat
who appears poised to take out Senator Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania this
fall. Santorum, the anti-gay crusader, is easily one of the Democrats’
most-hated GOP senators, but some have openly wondered if replacing him with
the pro-life Casey is really something to celebrate. Others fear that a
Casey win might make playing to the Right seem like a winning strategy
Warner is pro-choice, but would likely be too conservative to get a
Democratic gubernatorial nomination if he were running in California. He
likes enterprise zones, opposes gay marriage and doesn’t appear too
enthusiastic about scaling back the more controversial aspects of the War on
Drugs. Then there’s the NASCAR imagery on his PAC’s Web site.
But he has dealt with some of the same issues currently dogging our state.
For instance, he helped turn Virginia’s finances around and rescue its bond
rating. California currently has the lowest bond rating of any state.
Warner’s predecessor, Republican Jim Gilmore, won easily in a 1997 election
with what some said was a one-issue platform: repealing the state’s car tax.
He quickly was able to pass a repeal that was to be phased in over several
years. The rollback was supposed to cost the state $600 million a year when
fully implemented. But the rollback was at 70 percent when Warner took over,
and the cost already had ballooned to $1 billion a year. This in a state
with one-fifth of California’s population, Warner adds.
“I’ll always remember the day when we finally were able to sit down with the
books and were like ‘Holy