The Tea Party is alive and well in Virginia and claimed a couple of trophies in Virginia’s GOP primary on Tuesday. Activists easily defeated two 20-year veterans of the state’s House of Delegates after they had both voted in favor of a controversial $1.2 billion tax increase to pay for new roads and mass transit. The measure, which was approved last spring with the backing of outgoing Republican governor Bob McDonnell, passed with the support of almost every Democrat and half of the Republican members of the House of Delegates.
Tea-party groups mounted challenges to four incumbent lawmakers in Tuesday’s primary. They easily defeated the chairman of the Transportation Committee, Joe May, and Beverly Sherwood, another committee chairman. An unknown challenger won 48 percent of the vote against Delegate Robert Orrock, despite having taken several weeks off from the campaign for his wedding and honeymoon. Former governor Jim Gilmore, now chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, told me, “We were all told that no one was noticing the tax increase. Well, apparently Republican primary voters were.”
Supporters of the tax increase are dismissing the defeats of key legislators as isolated incidents, but tea-party activists say they may provide the impetus for a challenge to GOP speaker Bill Howell in the next session. A longtime conservative, Howell shocked many of his allies by ramming the tax increase through over the objections of much of his caucus.