The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Lawmakers not whistling Dixie over state song; B1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

Debates over taxes in the General Assembly are nothing new. But a discussion about a new state song that turns into a debate over taxation is.

That’s just what happened on the floor of the Senate on Monday afternoon, as members took up the second reading of a bill that would designate “Shenandoah” as the official state song.

Virginia has been without an official song for almost a decade. “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia” was retired as the official song in 1997 because some of its lyrics were offensive to some groups.

Legislators began a contest to replace the song in 1998, but it was suspended in 2000 after controversy erupted over the selection process.

Sen. Charles Colgan, D-Manassas, introduced a bill to put the issue to rest this year. Senate Bill 682 would designate “Shenandoah” as the official state song.

But the debate took an odd turn Monday as senators considered amendments to the bill. Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Centreville, tried to change the bill and put “Taxman,” a song made popular by the Beatles, in its place.

The song has more of a connection to his Northern Virginia district than “Shenandoah” does, he said. Some residents of the state’s top right corner feel “like all they ever get from Richmond is more taxes.”

Cuccinelli’s amendment was never taken up for consideration, although the changes that would make “Shenandoah” the “interim” state song were approved.

The Northern Shenandoah Valley’s two representatives in the body both weighed in on the debate.

“Shenandoah” is more than good enough to be the state song, said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who spoke against the committee amendments that would make it the “interim” song.

State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, decided to add his voice to the debate in verse.

In a brief recitation that drew chuckles from the body, Potts riffed on the lyrics of “Shenandoah” to fire back at Cuccinelli, reflecting themes from his failed gubernatorial campaign.

“The no tax crowd will not prevail, we will simply let them sail,” Potts read, before taking his seat.

Others took to Cuccinelli’s proposed amendment with less humor.

Sen. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania, protested that Cuccinelli’s effort falsely labeled Virginia as a high-tax state.

“Apparently there’s some kind of political advantage in trying to persuade Virginians that this is a high-tax state,” he said. “It’s not.”

A study by the legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that Virginia is in the bottom tier of states when it comes to tax burdens, he said.

“Lo and behold, Virginia comes up 45th,” Houck said. “Perhaps the [Cuccinelli amendment’s lyrics] should be amended … to ‘I’m the low-tax man.’”

The bill must pass one more reading in the Senate before being passed on to the House of Delegates.