The Commonwealth of Virginia is the birthplace of some of America’s most crucial Founding Fathers, the highest-income state in the South (as the region’s boundaries are conventionally understood), and a Democratic state. The latter is a new development and one which the Chicago Thinker explored in a June 2021 conversation with George F. Allen, the second to last Republican elected to the United States Senate from Virginia.
Allen, the son of NFL coach George H. Allen, has a statesman’s resume. He started off as a football player for the University of Virginia and, to this day, cites sports as the propellant for his commitment to equal opportunity. In Allen’s telling, sports are “a meritocracy with everyone on a level playing field” such that everyone has “equal opportunity to compete and succeed, not equal results but equal opportunity.” The former senator adds, “You get knocked down, you get back up. You don’t brood over losses or mistakes. You learn from them.”
An acolyte of Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp, Allen served as the 1976 director of “Young Virginians for Reagan.” He describes his political philosophy as Jeffersonian and touches on Reagan and Kemp’s themes in stating, “The role of the government is so long as you’re not harming someone else, leave people free and not restrain them with unnecessary regulations or burdens in their lives.” Fittingly, Allen served in Thomas Jefferson’s seat in the Virginia House of Delegates before moving on to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for one term before his successful 1993 bid to govern the commonwealth.
It was as governor that Allen cemented his identity as a fighter for equal opportunity, in part by freeing citizens from productivity-sapping and debasing government dependency. He signed into law welfare reform that led to “hundreds of thousands of people leading independent, self-reliant lives, rather than depending on a check from the government,” with the major provision being a requirement that Virginia mothers seeking welfare benefits identify the child’s father. “We still have the highest paternity establishment rate of over 99% in Virginia,” per Allen, because of the paternity mandate.
Equal opportunity also requires safe communities. In this vein, Allen signed a truth in sentencing law in 1995 to ensure that violent convicts serve at least 85% of their sentence. Old Dominion’s per-capita violent crime rate surged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, remained elevated in the mid-1990s, and then fell 45% between 1995 and 2013 (the last full year Virginia had a Republican governor). Despite these positive results, Democrats have weakened Allen’s legislation with a credit-based system that could allow for the early release of 14,000 inmates.
Allen’s other equal-opportunity initiatives included free-enterprise zones, i.e., areas with low taxes and limited regulations, and school-accountability measures. Allen left the Governor’s Mansion in 1998, thanks to the commonwealth’s ban on consecutive gubernatorial terms. Voters still had use for him, however, sending him to the Senate in 2000.
While Allen preferred the governorship to the Senate, which “moves at the pace of a wounded sea slug,” he continued to support equal-opportunity initiatives in Washington. He backed institutional technology opportunity grants, which, as Allen puts it, serve “historically black colleges and universities, tribal institutions, and Hispanic-serving institutions.”
Allen lost his 2006 bid for re-election to the Senate by fewer than 10,000 votes in what was a brutal midterm for the GOP. Attempting a comeback candidacy in 2012, Allen lost by a more convincing six percentage points, perhaps a testament to the effect of Democratic-leaning bureaucrats and tech workers’ movement to Virginia.
Now a Reagan Ranch board member and presidential scholar with the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), Allen is making the most of his political retirement. Commenting on cancel culture, he notes that YAF tries to place conservative speakers on college campuses because colleges “talk about loving diversity [. . .] except for diversity of thought.” He contends that “some of the most intolerant people are those who are on the left, who if you don’t agree with them, they call you all sorts of names, and it makes it very difficult for young people to hear a different point of view, which is what you’d want people to hear.”
Virginia’s gubernatorial election is scheduled for November 2nd, with Republican Glenn Youngkin, the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, going head to head against former Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. Back in June, Allen projected that the race would be competitive because of three key issues: economics, education, and crime.
Regarding the salience of the educational issue, Allen cited parents’ discontent with school shutdowns and the diminution of academic standards. Since our conversation, critical-race-theory-inspired instruction and the presence of pornographic books in school libraries have become political lightning rods. With Democratic nominee McAuliffe saying that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” some polls show that education is now the most important issue for Virginia voters.
Allen also emphasized crime as a motivating factor for voters, observing the clash between defund-the-police priorities, the early parole of violent criminals, and voters’ desire for “safe neighborhoods, safe communities.” And regarding the economic issue, Allen highlighted Virginia’s right-to-work law, which prohibits collective-bargaining contracts that condition employment on union membership and thus makes Virginia more attractive for employers.
Republican Youngkin’s closing advertisement noted that he wants “safer communities,” “better education,” and “lower taxes”—precisely the issues identified by Allen. And as Allen suggested would happen, the gubernatorial race is highly competitive. Youngkin went from a 5.5-point polling deficit late in the summer to a 1.7-point lead, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average, and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics switched their rating for the race from “leans Democratic” to “leans Republican” on Monday.
While Allen is committed to the entire Republican ticket, he is especially excited about the attorney-general candidacy of Jason Miyares, his longtime friend. The incumbent attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, called on the Democratic governor to resign after he admitted to wearing blackface. Then, Herring himself confessed to wearing blackface and refused to resign. Miyares is not relying on voter blowback against Herring’s indefensible but predictable hypocrisy, instead campaigning against what he contends is Herring’s “criminal first, victim last mentality.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s election, all eyes—including the Thinker’s—are on the commonwealth.
*The views expressed in this article solely represent the views of the author, not the views of the Chicago Thinker.
Declan Hurley is the Chicago Thinker’s Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. A rising third year at the University of Chicago who is studying Economics and History, Declan is also a small-business owner, the editor of FDL Review, and an active participant in the politics of his home state, North Carolina. He loves to partake in the battle over ideas, and in his free time, he likes to exercise, read, and review public-opinion polling.