Some of the leading citizens of Wise County got together last year at the Brass Lantern Restaurant beside the bowling alley here pitched in $15,500 to help Dalton get himself elected governor of Virginia.
James A. Brown, a 34-year-old engineer who made millions from the coal boom that followed the Arab oil embargo was there. So was Thomas West, the former lumberjack who was one of Brown's partners and made enough to get out of the strip-mining business and turn his 40s into his leisure years.
Harold D. Belcher, the chief of police down at Big Stone Gap came, and so did Morgan Legg, who owns the Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealership on the road between Norton and Appalachia.
At the table next to Legg and his wife were Ray Lawson and his wife. Lawson is content with the family's steady watersoftening business and has never been tempted by the world of mercurial coal fortunes.
OF course, Elizabeth Taylor, the movie star, and her husband John Warner, the former secretary of the Navy who hopes to run for the U.S. Senate in Virginia next year, were there, too.
Taylor has starred at so many Republican fund-raising events in Virginia this year - about 30 - that her absence in Wise would have been taken as a snub of coal field political figures. Brown and R. O. Goad, who can remember selling tires on time to the now properous strip-mine operators, responded gallantly to Taylor's presence. They put up the money to fly Taylor and Warner into Lonesome Pine Airport on a Lear jet and Brown whisked them and the Daltons to the Brass Lantern in his white Rolls Royce.
A murmur of excitement has followed Taylor wherever she has gone in Virginia this year - the Blackstone Chamber of Commerce achieved its first luncheon sellout ever when she came to Hottoway County - and it followed her into the Brass Lantern.
Nevertheless, she did not overwhelm the crowd of more than 100 at Dalton's Wise fund raiser. The most sensational appearance of the evening was made by the members of the Wise County Shrine Legion of Honor, a contingent of Shriner service veterans who were dressed in white uniforms draped in gold braid, and topped off, in some cases, with star-studded epaulets.
The Shrine showing was in honor of Dalton, who is the immediate past potentiate of the Kazim Shrine Temple in Roanoke, the home temple for all Shriners in Southwest Virginia.
In his speech, Dalton recalled with gratitude the $35,000 check presented to him last year by the Wise County Shriners as a donation to the Shrine's hospital for crippled children. "It was the largest donation ever made by a single county Shrine club in North America," he said.
The money that floved into the Dalton campaign fund in Wise County last night reflects not only the new affluence if the coal fields but also the growing awareness that state and federal government actions can have significant impact on the coal industry and the businesses it supports in this region.
Coal operators strongly oppose any tax on coal that would go to the state's general fund and are looking for state officeholders who will help them fight proposals for severe restrictions on strip mining.
Coal field contributors gave about $250,000 to the campaigns of former Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell and former Attorney General Andrew P. Miller before the June 14 Democratic primary. In that election Howell was nominated to be Dalton's Democratic opponent.
It seems likely that contributions to Howell and Dalton before the general election will push the total coal field contributions above $400,000 out of perhaps $3 million that will be given to both candidates this year.
When Dr. L. C. Strong of Norton, master of ceremonies here last night, handed Dalton the envelope with $15,500 in contributions, he observed that the dinner receipts raised the total of gifts from Wise County to the Dalton campaign to $28,000.
Dalton and Howell will not be required to make their first disclosure of contributions for the general election campaign until early October.
Dalton told last night's dinner audience that he will be a faithful defender of Virginia's surface mining industry. "I'm going to stick up for surface mining whether I'm in Wise County or Northern Virginia," he said. "We need to see that both the surface mining and deep mining industries prosper if we are to meet our energy development goals."