Virginia Elects Democrat Warner As Its Next Governor

By Alan Richard — November 14, 2001 4 min read

Virginians elected Democrat Mark R. Warner as their new governor Nov. 6—and with his victory, the wealthy businessman promised to make schools there the best in the nation.

In doing so, he’ll face a House of Delegates that is now more dominated by Republicans than ever before. The GOP picked up 10 additional seats on Election Day, boosting its number in the House to 64 out of 100 members.

On the eve of his Nov. 6 election as govenor of Virginia, Mark R. Warner relaxes with his wife, Lisa Collis, at a campaign rally. He beat Republican Mark L. Earley, but faces a GOP-led legislature.
——Steve Helber/AP

The Republicans did well in the House races despite the loss by their gubernatorial candidate, former state Attorney General Mark L. Earley, who posted 48 percent of the votes in the unofficial tally. Mr. Warner received 52 percent, for a margin of 101,000 votes.

Democrat Timothy M. Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond, narrowly won the race for lieutenant governor over Republican House member Jay K. Katzen.

Neither gubernatorial candidate owned education as an issue, though both declared their deep concern for schools and called for higher teacher salaries.

Mr. Warner, who hasn’t previously held elected office, campaigned as a social moderate and a fiscal conservative. He also spent millions of dollars—including some of his own fortune from cellular telephones—to run TV ads months before the election.

His Republican opponent could not match such spending, and his attempts to paint Mr. Warner as a tax- raising Democrat failed, although the margin of victory was smaller than some polls had predicted.

Leadership Changes?

In addition to pay raises for teachers, Mr. Warner’s platform included adjustments to the state’s Standards of Learning tests and increased school aid.

He won the endorsement of the Virginia Education Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association, and other education groups.

“We put Virginia first when we [make] Virginia public schools, from preschool to graduate school, the best in the nation. And that includes respecting and compensating our teachers fairly,” the governor-elect said during his acceptance speech.

Raising teacher salaries will be no easy task. Virginia—like many other states—faces a budget shortfall in the coming year. Tourism in northern Virginia dropped sharply after the terrorist attacks, one of which was on Virginia soil at the Pentagon, just outside Washington.

Mr. Warner, whose daughters attend private school in the Washington suburb of Alexandria, said his experience in business would help him guide the state in tough financial times.

“We still don’t know the full magnitude of the budget shortfall, but I look forward to working cooperatively with the legislature,” he said on election night.

Educators will watch to see if Mr. Warner tries to change the SOL tests beyond requiring more essay questions, which was the only specific change he recommended in his campaign. He also stressed better career education, but gave few specifics.

Mr. Warner could replace part of the state board of education, including board President Kirk T. Schroder, who has championed the state’s accountability plan.

In addition, Mr. Warner must decide whether to reappoint state schools Superintendent Jo Lynne Demary, generally respected by educators but also a champion of Virginia’s tests. Secretary of Education Wilbert Bryant, a Republican who oversees K-12 and higher education in Virginia, will likely be replaced, since he supported Mr. Earley.

Conciliatory Tone

The new governor’s leadership skills will be tested soon in his dealings with the GOP-dominated legislature, said Toni-Michelle Travis, a professor of government and politics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

Democratic candidates have done well in state elections by adapting centrist positions on education and social issues, Ms. Travis observed. As for Republicans—whose national committee is headed by Virginia’s outgoing governor, James S. Gilmore III—they need a new plan, she said.

Gov.-elect Warner won despite a late push by Mr. Earley with TV ads featuring the endorsement of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York.

Mr. Earley also failed to convert the state’s education improvement initiatives under the GOP into campaign gold, choosing instead to emphasize that his children go to public schools.

In a press briefing after the election, Mr. Warner was conciliatory. He suggested he might adopt his opponent’s plan to add 21,000 adult mentors for Virginia students, and promised his administration would be “the most bipartisan in Virginia history.”

Jean Bankos, the president of the Virginia Education Association, hopes Mr. Warner’s election will give teachers more say in school reform.

“I know that with Mark Warner elected governor, we’ll have a new era of cooperation and respect for public school educators and for public schools in this state,” she said, “and a new vision for where we need to go and how we need to get there.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Virginia Elects Democrat Warner As Its Next Governor


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