Gilmore Prefers Evolution to Revolution
By Spencer S. Hsu
Under Gov. James S. Gilmore III, it appears that the most rowdy aspects of Virginia's Republican revolution, led by former governor George Allen, are a thing of the past.
To allies, Gilmore's recent stepping back from the symbolic and rhetorical dramas of Allen's term are less a retreat than a quiet consolidation of GOP gains across state government.
"I don't think the revolution is over," said Gilmore's chief of staff, M. Boyd Marcus Jr., "but if it is, it's because we won."
To many Democrats and other observers, Gilmore's retrenchment reflects both the cautious nature of the man and a calculated political acknowledgment that Virginians in these prosperous times are in no mood for Allen's full-throated confrontation.
Gilmore has learned from Allen and Republicans in Congress, whose headlong partisan mistakes stunted their legislative gains in 1993 and 1994. And as a result, he is taking studiously moderate stands on education, the environment, race relations and other issues.
Unlike Allen, Gilmore enjoys a General Assembly under partial GOP control and can afford not to play the insurgent. A current of political rivalry also runs between both men, Republican operatives say: Jim Gilmore is clearly no George Allen and has no intention of mimicking his colorful and outspoken predecessor.
"Gilmore is playing Bush to Allen's Reagan, and the easy phrase is that it's a kinder, gentler conservatism," said Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at American University. "Fundamentally, they are conservatives who do not differ with one another dramatically on policy issues, but they go about the task of leading very differently."
"Without a doubt," Rozell added, Gilmore's "moderate-sounding" approach recalls pragmatic Virginia governors of years past who avoided ideological wars, such as the businesslike Democrats Gerald L. Baliles and Charles S. Robb of the 1980s.
The tone of Gilmore's three-month-old administration is a study in contrasts with Allen's first months. It also counters Gilmore's own tough, conservative instincts, on display this week when he vetoed a bill to provide health coverage to about 70,000 uninsured children, contending it would expand welfare.
Four years ago, Allen vowed at his inauguration to lead a conservative revolution, condemning ruling Democrats as "monarchical elitists" and decrying the federal "beast of oppression." He blasted benefits for gay people and the teaching of sex education.
His appointees marched under a similar banner. Allen's secretary of natural resources, Becky Norton Dunlop, a former Reagan Interior Department appointee, regularly challenged U.S. environmental dictates in court. She ridiculed conservationists and called for a federal government shutdown last August when D.C. suffered high ozone levels.
By comparison, Gilmore removed Allen's president of the State Board of Education, conservative educator Michelle Easton. She had led Allen's ultimately failed charge against accepting federal education grants. Gilmore's president, Kirk T. Schroder, is a prominent Richmond Republican and the governor's former law partner.
Last week, Gilmore environmental secretary J.P. Woodley -- another lawyer who worked for Gilmore in the attorney general's office -- pronounced Virginia's commitment to both "fair and vigorous" enforcement of clean water laws and "our friends and allies" in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at a conference in Lexington.
"I don't think there's any question about it," said former Democratic governor L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, lavishing praise on Gilmore for his "marked differences" with Allen.
Wilder singled out Gilmore's condemnation of slavery in his Confederate History Month proclamation on Thursday -- a subject Allen never included in his annual proclamations -- which angered white Southern heritage groups. Days before, Gilmore told students at the University of Virginia -- where Allen replaced the sole black board member in 1994 -- that he would "reach out and make the Republican Party more accessible . . . to the African American community."
"He intends to be his own person, he intends to be inclusive, he doesn't intend to be predictable," said Wilder, who has become a Gilmore adviser. "I think people have been rather surprised, but I'm not."
Gilmore still plays to the GOP's conservative base when he sees an advantage. His veto last week of a popular child health insurance bill passed by bipartisan two-thirds majorities of the General Assembly is one example that dismayed moderates of both parties.
He will practice the same politics when he signs a bill Monday outlawing "partial-birth" abortions -- and later if he vetoes bills that would have required sex education in the classroom and guidance counselors in elementary schools.
"He's a master of double-speak. I think he preaches inclusiveness . . . but practices just the opposite," said Gilmore's leading Democratic foil, House Democratic Leader C. Richard Cranwell (Roanoke).
Echoing Republican complaints that President Clinton regularly steals GOP issues, Cranwell said the governor fought a $110 million Democratic school construction program as "half-baked," then supported the bill after it passed.
Gilmore's partisans say there's nothing inconsistent, or even opportunistic, about the governor's stands.
"There's no reason you can't be pro-education and a conservative Republican," said Gilmore spokesman Mark A. Miner. "There's no reason you can't be pro-environment, be for the largest tax relief in Virginia history and still be a conservative Republican."
But, Miner said, "he's not an in-your-face governor."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company