The following is an exclusive report on the final demise of the Byrd Organization. It is exclusive because a generation of Virginia political reporters at work in the state since World War II long ago tired of reporting the end of the loosely knit political force, fashioned by the late Gov. and Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. in the late 1920s, that held sway over the state for about 40 years.
The decline and fall of the Byrd Organization was one of the longest running stories of its kind since the Roman Empire melted into the Dark Ages.
It began in 1949 when old Harry had to call openly on Republicans to enter the Democratic gubernatorial primary to help the Organizations stave off a challenge of its candidate, John S. Battle, by anti-organization liberal Francis Pickens Miller.
A new round of obituaries was written in the early 1950s when the Young Turks, an irreverent band of youthful legislators like Armistead Boothe of Alexandria and former U.S. Sen. William B. Spong of Portsmouth, forced the Organization to end its pratice of rebating surpluses to taxpayers. They insisted on and won appropriation of the funds for schools and mental hospitals.
It became necessary again in the late '50s to bury the Organization when once trusted Byrd lieutenant J. Lindsay Almond ended, against Byrd's wishes, the Organization's massive resistance to federal school desegregation orders.
Byrd died in 1966 - to be replaced in the same name - but he died knowing that one of his talented followers, Mills E. Godwon, occupied the governor's office.
Godwin was in fact a Byrd governor, but he did not always act like one. His glowing inaugural address in 1966 spoke of Virginia as being "of the nation," and said the state would be judged by "the nation's standards."
He promptly led the way to passage of a sales tax to finance the rescue of a backward school system. Then he broke the Bryld pay-as-you-go tradition with the state's first bond issue in modern times.
By the time Godwin left office in 1970, the Organization clearly had ceased to exist in a form that could win elections and dictate the limits of legislation in the Virginia Assembly.
With the Democratic Party divided and the electorate swollen by urban residents and black voters, Republican Linwood Holton was chosen to succeed Godwin governor elected in 1949.
Two years later, old Byrd Organization foe Henry E. Howelt of Norfolk was elected lieutenant governor in a special eleciton over Godwin's Democratic choice and in 1972 Godwin was virtually chased out of the party in a takeover engineered by liberal George Rawlings, now a Democratic National Committeeman from Fairfax.
At that point, it was no longer relevant to talk about the Organization. It was more appropriate to write about the end of the era of conservative Democratic rule in state.
Then, disguised as a Republican, Mills Godwin came back. In 1973, he vanquished Howell by a whisher and in the four years since has given Virginia one last look at the classic style of a Byrd era governor.
The first ruel fo that style is prudence. Decisions flow from painstaking assessments and the counsel of a few close advisers. There have never been eleborate campaigns to sell programs. Expectations have never been raised and so there have never been the stories reporting the failure to meet expectations.
Government in this style catches opponents by surprise. The decision to end collective bargaining by public employees with a court suit was executed to swiftly in 1976 there was no time for political opposition to develop.
The Godwin administration in fact had a transportation policy for congested Northern Virginia, but it never spelled it out. When it held out successfully for the construction of the 1-66 expressway and held back on funds for Metrorail, it did so with a view of the future.
The view holds that when weee finally run out of gasoline, Northern Virginians and other urban residents will prefer to get about in electric cars and buses.
Mills Godwin and his transportation advisers were about as likely to expose such a speculative view of the future to pupublic criticism as the formal Godwin would be to stroll about the Capitol grounds in a pair of walking shorts.
Godwin leaves office knowing he won the transportaion battle as long as he was in charge and many other battles in which he let the other side take the risks while he held to what he thought was the prudent course.
In the idiom of the Organization, he adhered to "sound doctrine." Govelect John N. Dalton and governors yet to come may imitate his style, but never again will it be authentic Byrd.