The coming fight over taxes, and the possible return of the Hanover Hun

Ken Cuccinelli had his close up at this weekend’s Republican Advance in Virginia Beach. His prepared remarks strike themes that are hardly new. Numerous mentions of “principles,” fighting for said principles and generally working to make government smaller and the sphere of liberty larger.

Great, fine, and, if you’ve followed Cuccinelli at all during his career, very familiar.

The small difference was here:

I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to ask for the support of those Republicans who have been strong supporters of the Lt Governor. I need your support and I want to take this opportunity to ask each of you for your help and support in this race.

Lt. Governor Bolling has performed over 20 years of public service, both to Hanover County and to Virginia as a whole. And he’s not done. He’s in a critical position as he presides over the State Senate. I appreciated my time in the Senate with him, where I can hardly remember disagreeing with him on an issue, and where I can remember voting right along side him in some tense and difficult fights.

I appreciate his service to Virginia and I wish him and Jean Anne nothing but the best for the future.

The second paragraph is something of a rebuttal to Mr. Bolling, who last week tried to paint a gulf between his record and Cuccinelli’s. The truth is that, especially in their Senate records, was wasn’t much difference at all. Remember when RTD reporter/pundit Jeff Schapiro called then lt. governor candidate Bolling the “Hanover Hun?” The narrative was that if Bolling was elevated to statewide office, he would gleefully butcher the Senate’s delicate balance and collegiality. It didn’t happen.

But it still could. The next General Assembly session will likely be dominated by talk of a taxes. The Senate, owing to a few wobbly Republicans, seems poised to pass some sort of gas tax increase. From my discussions with House members over the weekend, they won’t go along. So we have the prospect of watching the two chambers bicker over nickles. It will be neither illuminating nor entertaining. It might even turn nasty.

This poses any number of risks for the declared statewide candidates in the General Assembly, but they are even greater for Mr. Cuccinelli. The last Republican AG with a clear shot at the gubernatorial nomination to face an Assembly riven by conflict over taxes was Jerry Kilgore. He fared poorly, and his performance permanently soured some conservatives on his campaign.

Cuccinelli would be wise to study that time again and learn from Kilgore’s mistakes. The circumstances this time are different in many critical ways, not the least of which is that Bob McDonnell, rather than Mark Warner, is in the Governor’s Mansion. But in an election year, and with Democrats eager to expand, if they can, upon their 2012 success, escalation cannot be ruled out.

Which brings us back to Mr. Bolling. He will still be the Senate’s presiding officer and tie-breaker. He could play a pivotal role in the coming tax fight. The question is whether it will be the one that reflects Bolling’s conservative roots — the ones that Cuccinelli spoke of and the conventional wisdom feared, or his newly adopted role as Virginia’s independent voice.

Here’s hoping the “Hanover Hun” makes one last charge into the gap.