January 01, 1980 News & Features » Cover Story


Rush to Judgment 

Our exclusive interviews with the candidates for U.S. Senate.

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Style: In a sentence or two, how would you define good, effective government?

Allen: I use Mr. Jefferson's quote [from] his 1801 inaugural address. ... and it's as good a definition as any, and that is: "The sum of good government is a wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another but otherwise leave them free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and that the government should not take from the mouths of labor the bread it has earned." And that is my view.

Webb: Affirmative, creative leadership with the focus on giving attention to the people who have no voice in the quarters of power.

Next year we'll be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the settlement at Jamestown. If you had been among the first settlers there in 1607, how do you think you would have contributed to history?

Allen: Well I would have been out hunting. Either trying to grow some crops or out hunting ... maybe out on the river trying to catch some fish, as well. Mostly, that was the Virginia Company, and it was a commercial endeavor, and so I would have wanted to make sure that first the community was safe. I would have wanted to have good relations with the inhabitants that were already here, the Virginia Indians, and then tried to work with them in a positive way and learn from them the best we could, but also set up our own self-government. ... to meet the needs of the community and try to of course get more people to join in our venture. It's interesting you ask that question, because as governor, I [gave] shares of stock in the Virginia Company to companies that would come into Virginia.

Webb: I would have died in 1609 [laughs] when the cold frost came in, when two-thirds of them died, I think.

How did you kick off your campaign?

Allen: All over Virginia. Went through every region of Virginia. Of course the key place for me to kick off my campaign was in Charlottesville, because the Charlottesville/Albemarle area's where I first started out. We kicked off there and Abingdon where I lived in Southwest Virginia. Of course we were here in Richmond as well, Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area. ... We went to Hampton University and to kick off right next to the Emancipation Oak. One of the key initiatives that I've been working on in the Senate is in education — I've referenced that we need more engineers and scientists. I've worked to increase funding for minority-serving institutions, historically black colleges, universities here in Virginia, so that more of the students can graduate with degrees in technology, so that they can get those good-paying jobs.

Webb: I decided pretty spontaneously to run, and so I announced on February 8 with zero dollars and no staff, and then sort of moved forward from there. It took us a month to put enough together to actually have a press conference. We started the campaign here in Richmond with a press conference, meeting the press that normally covers Virginia politics and sort of took it from there. [Then] I went on [Comedy Central's] "The Colbert Report." I had actually been asked to be on that show in my capacity as a writer, and the campaign staff that I had at the time was really fretting. They said I could screw my whole campaign up if I had a bad day on the [show], but I went ahead and did it, and it was great for us.

What's one of the most important things that a U.S. senator from Virginia will need to do in the next year to improve the lives of Virginians?

Allen: We need to make sure that we prevent tax increases. Many of these tax cuts, this tax relief that we have passed in the last several years that reduce the marriage penalty tax, allow families, especially those with children, to keep more of what they earn. The tax cuts for retirees, the tax incentives and tax breaks for small-business owners need to be made permanent so that there's not an average of a 2,000-dollar-a-year increase on the average Virginian family. That's the most important thing I think we need to do for people's prosperity and keeping more of what they earn for themselves and for their families. ...

Webb: We need to work very hard to bring a conclusion to the war in Iraq that also contributes to stability in the region. That is going to affect the lives of every American in a wide variety of ways: freeing up money to put into infrastructure programs, probably in very short order reducing the price of oil and gasoline, and getting our people out of harm's way. I think that's doable with the right kind of leadership.

How should U.S. leaders respond to nuclear testing in North Korea?

Allen: We have the six-party talks, and I think we stick to working with the … countries in the regions, primarily of course South Korea, Russia, Japan, China, North Korea. China, though, is the key country. China's the country that provides the sustenance and support for North Korea. But for the People's Republic of China, North Korea's government could never stay in power. So I think we continue working in a regional aspect of it. Work with the international community, the United Nations for sanctions and effective sanctions against North Korea for their violations.

Webb: This administration has failed to deal with that issue for four years. We've known that North Korea had nukes for four years. I have long experience in that part of the world. The first book that I wrote when I was 28 years old was on our strategic interest in the Pacific. ... With respect to North Korea, you watch that region … the key countries in terms of whether you really have a crisis in a place like North Korea are South Korea, Japan and China, because they all have different interests in the Korean peninsula, and South Korea has been very moderate over the past several years, because they want to reunify the country and they became concerned — which is a signal that this really is a crisis. The Japanese concern started to increase in 1998 when North Korea shot a missile into the Sea of Japan. This is enough for them to strongly consider militarization and these sorts of things. China is the mentor nation of North Korea. They have a special responsibility, and they also have a real interest in seeing this resolved because they do not want Japan to go nuclear. The key right now is China, and if I were in the government right now I would be quietly working on China to … take the lead for resolving this. And if China will not do it then the United States should open up direct negotiations here.

What should the United States do about Iran?

Allen: Iran is a worry on so many different fronts. Iran first and foremost is a state sponsor of terror. You saw the thousands of rockets and missiles that they have given to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon to rain on Israel. They are an oil-rich country that uses oil as a geopolitical weapon, which makes it harder for us to get unity amongst other countries. A country such as Iran and their leaders who have stated — and I don't think they're joking — that Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth, and their statements about the U.S. and indeed all of Western civilization — a country like that cannot be allowed to get nuclear weapons. Again, this is going to take a concerted, unified effort, not just the United States, but also the rest of the world. The U.N. Security Council will be important in this effort. Key countries there will be China, but the key will really be Russia, because Russia's making money off of this deal. So Iran wants to be part of a community of nations and they want civilian nuclear power. That's understandable. But that could be achieved without them being able to use that nuclear material for weapons, and there have been several suggestions with it. But again ... if sanctions are put into place, embargos and so forth, if it's only the United States and France and Germany and Great Britain, that's not going to be effective unless we have the rest of the world with us.

Webb: I think we need to talk to Iran. I think that it's been a great mistake for us not to talk to Iran. That doesn't mean that we have to yield on any of the points that are concerns for us — recognition of Israel, nukes — but it's kind of interesting to see that in the past two weeks people like Jim Baker, former secretary of state, have started to say almost exactly what I've been saying for more than two years: that we need a diplomatic solution, that we need to engage countries that are our enemies. It's the only way you're going to be able to start resolving our problems. And, by the way, we need to be talking with Syria to … improve relations so that they break their alliance with Iran. That's not a natural alliance between those two countries, and the only way to resolve that is by more direct negotiations.

Educators are complaining that the No Child Left Behind Act isn't producing results. What do you think, and should it be changed in any way?

Allen: Yes, what needs to be changed with it is states like Virginia ought to have flexibility for managing schools. When No Child Left Behind was first proposed, it had the same mission as what we put in when I was governor: high academic standards, accountability, measurement, which is very, very important. Everyone thought it was going to be a breeze for Virginia, because we'd been doing it since I was governor in the mid-1990s. The problem with it, though, is that first of all, it's not as comprehensive as what we have in Virginia. It isn't for high school; it's really just until middle school. They don't have writing, they don't have science, they don't have history or economics in it. And again, the mission behind it is fine; there's nothing wrong, but the implementation by the federal bureaucracies have forced Virginia to dumb down our standards to meet federal requirements. ... I've introduced a bill, and I'm gonna put it on as an amendment that will allow states like Virginia or others to have the flexibility to manage this themselves rather than having some of these overly bureaucratic, burdensome, and I think downright harmful to academic measurements that the federal bureaucracy has imposed on Virginia.

Webb: I've been listening to educators and talking to as many of them as I can during this campaign. I think what we're seeing is a disconnect between the intentions of the law and its impact because there has not been funding. The federal government has put out requirements that it's not funding, so it's a double problem at the local level. While on the one hand they're teaching the federal standards. and on the other hand they're having to pay, because if they don't meet the standards they're penalized. So we need full funding, and from what I'm hearing from educators ... we need to give our teachers more latitude in terms of how you evaluate student performance.

How can we make schools safer?

Allen: The key area as far as the federal government is concerned — as a governor there's certain things you do at the state level, giving teachers immunity from liability.. They were getting sued with frivolous lawsuits for trying to maintain order in the schools — My main concern in leadership in the Senate has to do with gangs and the gang violence in schools. And so I've worked with my colleagues, but also with federal law enforcement,- and federal funding for state and local law enforcement to combat gang violence in schools.

Webb: That's a tough one because it goes back into neighborhoods and how do you resolve larger neighborhood issues and cultural issues. I look at schools like J.E.B. Stuart High School where three of my kids went, and it's the most diverse school in America. They've got gangs there, they've got all this stuff, and you end up with full-time police on the school grounds. When you're doing that you're addressing the end result of a lot of issues that should be resolved more at the community level. There's no magic answer.

Do you believe that people are born with a predetermined sexual orientation, or do gays and lesbians consciously choose a homosexual lifestyle?

Allen: I don't know. Do you have a question then on marriage?

No, but feel free to address it.

Allen: I think marriage should be between one man and one woman. Someone's sexual orientation, as far as my office policies, I care about somebody's capabilities. I don't ask people about their religion or their race or their ethnicity or their orientation as such. And they can enter into contracts, but marriage should be between a man and a woman.

Webb: You know, when I was 12 years old my father, who was not a terribly well educated man, drew me a bell-curve and explained sexual orientation in terms of scientific probability. From that point forward, I've always believed people were born with certain sexual orientations.

Last year a Supreme Court ruling made it easier for the government to take private property using eminent domain. Do you agree with the ruling and how should Virginia's leaders respond?

Allen: I strongly disagree with that ruling because what the Supreme Court there did allowing those commissars in New London, Connecticut, to take people's homes, the American dream, using eminent domain — not for a road, not for a school, but because they wanted to derive more tax revenue off of that property — is in effect amending our Bill of Rights by judicial decree, and this is an example of judges not protecting and upholding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The solution to it, and what you asked me is what Virginia should do, is Virginia should protect private property rights in our Constitution and in our laws, and I think the General Assembly has been doing that.. I've been trying to do that also through the federal government so that no federal funding can go to the taking of someone's home for such purposes as deriving more tax revenue off of properties. It's one thing if you're widening a road or building a road that's a public purpose.

Webb: It's a terrible ruling, and I think that if you look at constitutional law … the court system is allowed to determine what is constitutional or unconstitutional, but the legislature can determine what the remedy may or may not be. And in this situation, first of all, I hope there's better case law, but second of all, one possibility is for federal legislation precluding the taking of property under those circumstances.

Federal authorities have targeted Richmond as one of four areas in the country that need to combat gangs and gang violence. If elected, what would you do to help those efforts?

Allen: I'd continue to provide the leadership and the funding priorities for federal assistance to areas that have a problem with gangs. The Richmond area has that problem, Northern Virginia does. In fact, the gang problem in schools and communities is in some cases spilling over even into the Shenandoah Valley. I've been one who's always felt that safety and justice is important, and these gangs are threatening people in their schools and their communities and businesses. And there's also a lack of business because of people fearing gang violence or being attacked by these gangs. Some of them are just as vicious and violent — more than one can imagine. And we need to crack down on them, and it needs to be a concerted, unified effort from local law enforcement, state police, as well as federal authorities. ... These gangs, they go across state lines. Some of these gangs have links all the way to Los Angeles, some all the way to Central America.

Webb: The first thing I would want to do would be to sit down with the mayor and the governor and do whatever I can to help rectify the problem in the way that they are identifying the problem.

A lot of people in Richmond have been pinning their economic development hopes on a performing arts center. Is that a good idea?

Allen: Well it's an idea that I know many leaders who I respect were broaching. When I was able to get funding for the federal courthouse in Richmond there on Broad Street, that renaissance of that area, that rejuvenation of it, made a lot of sense. If that is an aspect of it, and I've seen the designs, I've seen the schematics of it, it is something that I think has a lot of potential. You need to understand my long-term interest in all this. When I was governor I put 10 million dollars into the convention center in Richmond. ... The federal courthouse is really going to be a tremendous anchor for activity. ... So a lot of what I would do as a U.S. Senator in trying to assist in any way, so far as any federal funding, would be first contingent on everyone in Richmond agreeing that [the performing arts center] would be an appropriate use of funding. ...

Webb: I wouldn't want to replace my logic for theirs. The one thing, when you look at dead-center, downtown Richmond, you wish that there were more activities down there. Whether it's stores or theaters or anything that's going to reinvigorate downtown Richmond I'm for [it], but it's certainly not the function of a senator to decide.

When is the last time a piece of great art affected you? What was it and why?

Allen: This is a serious question? This is such an unusual question. Can architecture be ...? The Pantheon in Rome. The perfection of it. ... For the first time ever, I took an art history course at the University of Virginia, and I always wanted to go to Rome and Florence — I've never gotten to Florence yet. I'm chairman of the European Affairs Subcommittee. And they just had new leadership, [Romano] Prodi, as the new prime minister of Italy. And so I wanted to meet with him and other Italian government leaders. ... Rome itself, the whole thing is absolutely inspiring. It's my new favorite city outside of the United States. I wanted to be an architect, but there was just too much math to it. But the Pantheon ... just the perfection of that building and the way the sun, depending on the time of the year, ends up being a clock through the hole in the ocular aspect of it in the top ... And then when Michelangelo was building St. Peter's, they wanted ... it to be bigger than the Pantheon, and they said it can't be done. And to think that that was fifteen hundred years later. ... It's remarkable to think that was being built two thousand years ago when they didn't have the measurements that we had here. ... You talk about something that's awe-inspiring. It's just very moving. All of Rome is, but in particular the Pantheon and St. Peter's.

Webb: For someone who's a writer, you know, I'm a great art-lover, all kinds of art. I include music as art, by the way. I am constantly affected by really good films, or books, or music, or whatever. That's a big part of who I am, so it's really hard to say … I've had a hard time seeing films this year, I've been pretty wiped out. The last film I saw that I really flipped over was "Walk the Line." I love that movie. It's almost like my mother's and my father's story in terms of background, because June Carter Cash is from Hilton, Virginia — my dad's family's out of Gate City, six miles away. Johnny Cash is from east Arkansas. So is my mother. I had an uncle who lost his hand in a saw mill, so that scene when the kid was killed in the saw mill … that's a very powerful movie.

Richmond has a high infant mortality rate. If elected, what would you do to address that challenge?

Allen: The reasons for a high infant mortality rate are many. ... A great deal of it is prenatal care — the condition, the health of the mother is obviously the number one concern. I'm not sure if you're aware of it, but it's called Title Seven of the Public Health Act, and it's for community health for people who are in underserved areas. ... And that funding needs to be restored so people have access to adequate health care. The key for infant health is the health of the mother, and a mother having access to diagnostics, and making sure that she has a healthy diet, that obviously anybody who is taking any drugs or alcohol or smoking will be harmful to that unborn child. And so, I think that is the most important, is prenatal care. That has to do with some funding, but it's also access, and making sure that some of this can be put on mobile vans. ... The other thing for infants is proper diagnosis for whatever malady may be suspected. And this is an issue that Jim Kelly, the Hall of Fame quarterback, asked me to be the lead Republican sponsor of. And Virginia does a pretty good job compared to other states, but there are some very inexpensive tests that can be taken of babies that will then give the physicians an accurate diagnosis of what's wrong, rather than guessing and not knowing what they're treating. ... And so what I'm working on is a measure to have the states do a better job across the nation in testing for various diseases so that ... the child, in being properly treated, it can either ameliorate whatever that malady or disease is, or, in some cases, properly cure it.

Webb: That's a broader health-care issue and one thing I have said is I think it's shameful for the richest country in the world not to have preventive health care for every American. We can talk cost, but we need to move toward a system where every American has some of preventive health care and will address those sorts of issues.

Is class now more divisive than race? How can you tell and why?

Allen: It's such a negative question. I think that people, regardless of their income, regardless of their race or their ethnicity or their gender — all should have an equal opportunity to compete and succeed. The great equalizer for people's potential in life is to live in safe communities and most importantly, that young people have a level playing field for education. ... And then from that they can go on to whatever their dreams may take them. ... And we need to motivate all Americans, regardless of their economic or ethnic background, to be striving to achieve. And income should not be a barrier. That's why I've advocated scholarships for young people who show proficiency in science and technology and engineering.

Webb: I think it is. We're all very sensitive, at least politically, on the ethnic side of things, but if you look at the breakdown in this country I've been talking about it since well before I ever decided to run. We have broken down along class lines in a way that we've never seen since probably the 1880s with the internationalization of corporate America and the impact on working people. We have a situation right now where corporate profits are at an all-time high as a percentage of national wealth and wages, and salaries are at an all-time low ever in recorded history as a percentage of national wealth, and that's class. When I was 24 years old the average corporate CEO made 20 times more than the average worker. My son is now 24 years old. The average corporate CEO makes 400 times what the average worker makes, and those are becoming class distinctions. We're in danger of freezing opportunity at the starting point by school systems and the ability of people with more wealth to protect their families in a different way. I think it's probably the greatest challenge for our society right now is to try and find a way to get out of it.

What is your favorite hymn?

Allen: "Amazing Grace." ... I look at "Amazing Grace" when the song is sung, and I think that it was written for me. ... The thing about "Amazing Grace," whether it's a church organ, whether it's a bluegrass band, whether it is bagpipes. No matter whatever instruments are used to play it, it is just a great song.

Webb: "Amazing Grace."

It's likely that neither party will win by a large margin statewide or nationally. How important will it be to compromise and are you prepared to do it?

Allen: You don't compromise principle, but what you have to do is find areas of common agreement, and take the best ideas that will benefit the people of Virginia and America, and in some cases, people around the world. And find those best ideas, and find areas of agreement and move forward. And areas of disagreement, if that can't be done, that should not impede the beneficial aspects of areas of agreement. There are times you take the "best of," so to speak, of every idea, from different parties and different persuasions. I was able to do that in our juvenile justice reform when I was governor of Virginia. ... We need to get this country unified in, I think, very important missions of protecting our freedom and making sure this a land of opportunity for all. ... There are principles and promises that I've made to the people of Virginia that I will not violate. I will not raise taxes on Virginians. I simply won't. That's not something that one can compromise on, because I think it'd be harmful to families and small businesses to increase taxes on them. I don't think there should be amnesty for illegal behavior. I think if you reward illegal behavior you'll get more of it. ... I think it's vitally important for trust in public servants that they keep their word. ...

Webb: I don't think it's necessary to compromise on things you believe in, whatever the margin is. It's important to work with people across the aisle, and I've got friends on both sides of the aisle — I don't think that will be a problem. In terms of legislative issues per se I spent four years as a committee council in the Congress working on legislation. I know the kinds of trade-offs that are necessary as long as you don't compromise what you believe in.

How would you rate the news media's performance during this senate campaign?

Allen: They have not been on my side, that's for sure. I'm trying — notwithstanding their desires to get away from issues and ideas, stands on different matters, and my proven record of performance — I'm trying to focus on issues that really have an impact on people's lives. We have a free media in our country. Thank goodness there's the Internet and cable news, and so there are many more outlets for facts and truth than having to rely on just some.

Webb: It's been frustrating but I can't say that it's been unfair. It's just this is the American system you have to accept it.

President Bush [Allen] / President Clinton [Webb] has helped you raise money for your campaign. What have you learned most about their leadership style?

Allen: If people actually knew President Bush — and I've known President Bush since he was Governor Bush. And even have been joking about bets we made when Texas was playing UVa. and I had to pay him, and when Virginia Tech beat Texas, and was able to get some Texas ribs and Ruby Red grapefruits. He is a very likeable person. He's a passionate person. I believe he's a strong leader, and while there's characterizations of him that are critical, he is a person who does care about people. And cares about the safety of our country. I agree with him and I disagree with him. ... I think he's trying to do the best job possible for this country in very consequential times, and challenging times.

Webb: Bill Clinton and I have, again, had different journeys to this point, and there was a time in my life where he and I were on opposite sides of a lot of issues, and I think for all of us who went through the Vietnam War and it's aftermath, and all the cultural wars and everything else, I think we've all grown.

Finish the sentence, President George Bush's legacy in office will be …

Allen: ... determined by how we respond to the threats of these radical terrorist organizations in protecting our country.

Webb: I don't play those games.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Allen: I think people will look at my legacy as a United States senator and as governor of Virginia as someone who has brought forth monumental, positive changes and reforms that have benefited all Virginians. ... whether safety, with the crime rates down with the abolition of parole; much better education for young people with our high academic standards; the welfare reforms — there are now tens of thousands of people leading independent, self-reliant lives. And there are literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who are in good-paying, new jobs, whether in the semiconductor industry or other technologies or other jobs in Virginia, that my leadership on nanotechnology — which is the next transformative aspect of our economy — has propelled not just Virginia but America into a position of leadership. I think people will look at my record, that's assuming I die soon — but I still want to keep adding to ideas and positive solutions that will continue to improve people's lives — their security and their opportunities in life. George Allen was a competitive person, who truly had a tangible, positive aspect on our lives, our families, as well as transforming Virginia into a state that has unlimited potential.

Webb: I want to be remembered as someone who cares about what I left behind. S

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