Pat Mullins: the man in the middle

The lines hardening between those who support and those who oppose the transportation tax hike continue to solidify. But as is always the case, there’s at least one person caught in the middle. And in this matter, it’s Republican Party of Virginia chairman Pat Mullins.

Mullins has the unenviable task of trying to walk the line between supporting the team and castigating its work. A post on his Facebook page shows how thin that line is:

Lots of people have been asking me where I am on this transportation bill.

A lot of good Republicans have worked very hard on this issue, and they deserve a lot of praise. Transportation is a tough nut to crack, otherwise it would have been done years ago. And we do have a serious transportation problem. Governor McDonnell, Speaker Howell, Leader Norment, and the rest of those who have worked so hard on this deserve a lot of praise for being willing to even try.

When Governor McDonnell first put out his plan, I was optimistic. The initial years were supposed to be close to revenue neutral and we were getting rid of the gas tax. I was hopeful that the problems with the bill could be worked out through the legislative process. When Democrats wanted to walk away from the table and play politics, we took the fight to put pressure on them to seriously address the transportation problem.

But I have concerns with the bill as currently written. I am hopeful that the Governor will seek to amend what passed to remove some of the portions of this bill.

My major concern is what the impact will be on Virginia’s already hard-pressed taxpayers.

We need to be serious about paring back the size of government wherever we can. We need real cuts, not just cuts in the growth of spending, but real and substantial cuts. The taxpayers of Virginia will feel better about us as a Party if we champion this cause.

That being said, there are good Republicans on both sides of this issue.

Our elections in November are vitally important. All the statewide offices and the Virginia House of Delegates will be standing for election. We need to be united as a party and focused on winning this fall. We need to elect Ken Cuccinelli as Virginia’s next Governor, a Republican Lieutenant Governor, and a Republican Attorney General, while maintaining our Republican majority in the House of Delegates.

Thank you for your help in making this happen.

Finding the unity Mullins seeks won’t only be difficult, it may, at least in the short-term, be impossible. There have been threats of primary challenges to House incumbents who voted for the transportation bill. At least one of those members, Del. Joe May, has already drawn such a challenge.

Other such challenges may come to light and if enough do, it may mean watching the GOP relive the 2005 election cycle all over again. Recall that back then, six House incumbents who voted for the sales tax increase (which was then the largest tax increase in Virginia’s history) faced primary challenges. One lost. One retired. The conventional wisdom at the time was that the results were a victory for the establishment.

It was something of a Pyrrhic victory. The GOP began a slow bleed of House seats over the next few cycles — and lost control of the Senate in 2007 — that did not reverse itself until one Barack Obama appeared on the political scene. Republicans cannot count on such a bailout from on high in the future.