Next fall, Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb, a Democrat, and Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman, a Republican, are expected to face off in the contest for governor of Virginia.
Recently, Garrett Epps, a contributing editor to The Washington Post Magazine, talked with both men about their goals, their political philosophies and their hopes for the future of Virginia.
Last week, Epps reported on his conversation with Coleman. This week, a conversation with Chuck Robb. What were the formative events that shaped your personality?
A lot of good things had happened to me. I had always done well most of the time I was growing up in school and had always done reasonably well in sports.
Almost everything I had sought had come may way. . . I was pretty cocky, and just assumed that everything that I touched was going to work out well.
I decided that I was going to run for president of the graduating class [in college]. And I did. I had picked all the candidates for the other offices -- all of them won. I came in second.
It was obvious to me in retrospect that I took too much for granted. I was too self-confident and I think it probably showed a little bit. I really needed a little taking down and I got it.
In terms of molding my character, I think it probably changed my style, and for the better. I regrouped. It was the next year that I was commander of the ROTC and set a record for the number of honors received by a graduating senior, and I went off to Quantico and ended up first in my class there.
But I always remember that [election] experience, and any time I start feeling too good about what's happening -- too self-assured -- I always step back and think, 'Hey fella, you're just as human as everybody else and just as vulnerable, and if you forget that you're going to get you comeuppance.' It really has helped me handle a lot of tough situations. Do you enjoy the camaraderie that often is part of politics?
I have to say that's not one of the areas where I'm given high marks, I suspect. I like to do things on the basis of projects. I'm very much, not withstanding criticism to the contrary, issue- or project-oriented.
Some people just like the backslapping or the drinking with the boys. I'll do that occasionally and I don't dislike it, but I have this puritan ethic, if you will, that there are important projects that need work, and I feel better about it if I'm working on a specific project rather than if I'm simply participating in some of the camaraderie.
It's been my experience that an awful lot of the people who are successful in the political process do tend to be a little aloof. Maybe I developed that kind of relationship in the military where you have limited fraternization between the officers and the enlisted men. It's not a matter of class or caste system at all, but there are a lot of times when you are called on to make some important decisions, and you can't do that if you are the drinking buddy of everybody you're involved with.
I really enjoy working with political people, but I like to have some kind of a goal. Certainly, Lynda's father was an excellent example of a person who really didn't operate very effectively unless he had a lot of people around him -- he reached out and he wore his heart on his sleeve -- but most of the people that I have seen in positions of responsibility don't operate quite that way. Maybe they're less visceral and lovable. I may always be a little bit less than lovable. What do you dislike about politics?
I dislike the toot-your-own-horn aspect that some politicians feel that they must engage in. To stand up and try to take credit for certain actions, to me, has been a little immodest to say the least. I like to have my good deeds, or anyone else's good deeds, noticed and commented on favorably, but I always find it a little bit awkward when I see the politician doing it himself or herself.
I don't care for the idea in seeking collective office that it's so necessary to go on the offensive to attack, to suggest that the opponent is less qualified. What are you most passionate concerns?
I feel very strongly that the role of government has expanded beyond what most people, if they could start out with a clean slate, would really want to have government involved in. I don't want you to quote me and say that I even have some libertarian leanings, because clearly they don't go to that extent in the whole field of national defense or police protection or whatever.
The pure libertarian would suggest that government ought not to be really involved in anything -- just let me alone, absolute laissez faire and stay out of my life.Well, there is a little of that in me that says government is involved in a lot of projects that it really shouldn't be involved in, and there's a constituency for these programs -- all well-meaning. iThere's very few programs that I've ever been able to find that don't have a rational, humanitarian reason for existing, and yet they tend to grow a little bit like Topsy, and we find that we as taxpayers are required to support a government that is beyond the control of any of us. For many years, former lieutenant governor Henry Howell commanded the loyalty of a broad-based coalition of Virginia Democrats. Do you think you can hold on to that coalition?
It may not be precisely the same coalition of individuals, but many of the same elements will be involved. There are enough people, when they get down to the point of voting, who are not going to be so much concerned strictly about the question of philosophy as they are about the general character and ability [of a candidate] to deal with complex issues.
That may be a somewhat idealistic view. I think people will respect honest differences. What are your differences with Gov. John N. Dalton?
That gets into what I consider an important question for a candidate. I'm not suddenly going to become a screamer. I'm not going to become a polarizer.
I'm going to be much more the type of individual who works on the basis of some degree of trust and confidence. The approach that I find most effective is to work more on an individual basis. You don't generate quite the enthusiasm or quite the negative fallout with such an approach, but it's effective. How do you assess Dalton as governor?
I don't plan to criticize Dalton. I am not going to be obsessed with comparisons and the attempt to divide and conquer.
Governor Dalton has approached the job of governor as one of having essentially managerial responsibilities. He would generally get good marks as a manager. An initial step in terms of reducing the rate of increase [in the size of state government]. . . . It is an admirable first step in the process of getting some control on the size and range of the role of state government.
He has not had to come to grips with some of the difficult questions that will be facing any governor in the next decade. The real resources are going to be much more limited. The much tougher decisions are still ahead of us.
If you had to chart the Dalton administration, it's been one that has viewed the role of governor as one of a manager. There are views or roles that are expressions of what a governor or an administration should do that would be appropriate for discussion at a future time. If you view the role of governor as a manager, in that respect they've [the Dalton administration] done a good job. (In an effort to open up federal judgeships to minorities and women, former president Carter asked the senior senator from Virginia, independent Harry F. Byrd Jr., to head a panel to make nominations on the basis of merit. The recommendations sent by the Byrd panel included no blacks and no women.) You have been criticized for your role in trying to mediate between Senator Byrd and the Carter White House over the judgeship issue. How do you view your role in the dispute?
I'm very comfortable with what I did and the principle I adhered to throughout. I stated in a nutshell that I applauded the president's determination to increase minority representation and the numbers of women in the federal judiciary. I said at the time that the president, in this instance, was not in a position to criticize Senator Byrd for establishing a process which was almost identical to the one he suggested.
I did convey those views to key members of the White House staff, including the [former] attorney general and the [former] chief of staff.
Unless he [Carter] was willing to attack the integrity of the process, he was on thin ice in criticizing the results of that process.
I attempted to act as one who was an intermediary. Unfortunately, we got about 75 percent of the way home in terms of the process, and communications broke down because of a deliberate leak the White House made.