In January 2006, the Commonwealth of Virginia had been without an official state song for almost nine years. “Carry Me Back to Old Virginia,” designated the state’s anthem in 1940, had been retired in 1997 after civil rights groups protested the song’s lyrics, which included such lines as “There’s where this old darkey’s heart am long’d to go.”
To amend this, State Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Manassas) introduced SB. 682, a bill designating the traditional folk song “Shenandoah” as Virginia’s “interim state song”. The debate over the song’s merits took an odd turn on January 30th, when then-Sen. Cuccinelli filed an amendment to change the bill and replace “Shenandoah” with “Taxman,” an anti-big government anthem by the Beatles.
The Newport News Daily Press covered then-Sen. Cuccinelli’s decision “send a message” during the state song debate:
In a floor speech, the Fairfax Republican said he had nothing against the Shenandoah region, but he thought the state needed a more generalized song that had something for everyone. Virginia, he said, has a unique history.
“And taxes are a part of that history. The very building we’re standing in is named after Patrick Henry. Everyone pays those taxes,” he deadpanned, “and starting in about 1765 Patrick Henry began fighting the imposition of British taxes, which in turn began the American Revolution. That is our history in Virginia.”
Cuccinnelli added that his constituents would feel more of a connection to “Taxman” than to “Shenandoah,” because “they feel like all they ever get from Richmond is more taxes.”
The Northern Virginia Daily reported that Cuccinelli’s amendment was mocked by other senators and never taken up for consideration:
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.’”