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GOP goes gaga for God

BOOM, BOOM, boom. The hardwood floor of the Boar's Head Inn ballroom shook from the thundering bass. The temperature rose as people poured in. The din was deafening. The party had begun.

In an atmosphere reminiscent of a high school homecoming, Albemarle County Republicans celebrated incumbent Paul Harris' victoryover Democratic challenger Ed Wayland (59-41 percent) in the Virginia House of Delegates race in the 58th district. The crowd also showed huge support for political newcomer Jane Maddux, despite her loss to incumbent Democrat Emily Couric (66-34 percent).

Republicans had other reasons to celebrate beyond Harris' victory, with Republican candidates winning key elections last night. The GOP captured 53 seats in the House of Delegates and 21 Senate spots, to the Democrats' 47 House seats and 19 Senate positions. "This is a great day to be a Republican!" claimed one party member.

The victory is a watershed in Virginia politics - it's the first time since Reconstruction that the Republican Party has controlled both the House and the Senate. "This will have tremendous impact," Maddux commented following the first returns.

The election's immediate impact, according to Maddux, will be the reassignment of several chairmanships and the redrawing of voting district lines. "This will be the first time we've gotten to draw them," she said. In addition, the Senate presidency is up for grabs, as current president Sen. Stanley C. Walker (D) lost to challenger D. Nick Rerras (R).

It's hard to predict what effects this power shift will have beyond simple changes in state leadership. The GOP platform espoused by the ideologically congruent team of Harris and Maddux differs only slightly from that of Couric. Each candidate placed firm emphasis on perennial issues of education, economics and health care, and, on the surface, only semantics separated the three.

This is misleading, however, as yesterday's election - if we accept Maddux and Harris as mainstream representatives of state Republicans - means the rise to power of the right wing and religious right. In his acceptance speech, Harris made repeated reference to religious beliefs, saying that "God's work must be our own," and that "God makes everything possible." He further went on to say that "character, integrity and morality is the future of Virginia." While these statements in and of themselves may not be out of line, they do set an interesting precedent for state policy.

Religion has heavily influenced recent policies in other states, most notably in Kansas, where members of fundamentalist organizations pushed through a measure outlawing the teaching of evolution in schools. Given the current emphasis put on educational reform by Virginians, it would be easy to see how similar measures could be enacted here.

It's important for our leaders to be people of high character - to this I think we all agree - but the idea that somehow we as a state should be doing "God's work," as defined by a certain group of people, is a scary idea. Members of the House and Senate should focus their energy on creating and reforming specific programs that better the state as a whole, and should leave evangelism to clergy.

While Harris' comments may not represent Republicans as a whole, the overwhelmingly enthusiastic reaction from those in attendance speaks volumes about the current political climate. Regardless of one's own politics or feelings about the election, it is vitally important that now we all become vicious guards of our rights, including the separation of church and state.

(Rob Walker is a Cavalier Daily columnist.)