Republican candidate for Virginia governor Wyatt B. Durrette said yesterday he would prove to be a more activist leader than his Democratic opponent, Gerald L. Baliles, and charged that Baliles was a lackluster state attorney general and legislator.
"I don't think he's done much of anything that you could characterize as taking on tough problems and trying to provide leadership to solve them," Durrette said during an interview at his law office in Fairfax City.
Durrette, a former legislator from Fairfax County who now lives in a Richmond suburb, described Baliles as "capable," but said, "if you look at his legislative record, you don't find him sponsoring or leading on major legislative issues ."
Durrette, who lost the 1981 race for attorney general to Baliles, served six years in the legislature through 1977. Baliles served in the assembly from 1976 through 1981.
"I think that our records and our styles permit me to argue legitimately that my leadership abilities are better than his, that I am more willing to lead and tackle problems and get out front . . . . "
Baliles failed to deliver on his 1981 promises to attack crime problems as attorney general and has not moved aggressively to resolve problems in the state's prison system, Durrette charged.
Asked whether Virginia voters, generally considered moderate to conservative, want an "activist governor," Durrette said: "I'm not sure. I hope that's what they want."
"Even as a Republican, a member of the minority party, during the six years I was there," Durrette said, "I think it's accurate to say that I chaired more commissions, subcommittees, major items than anybody else of either party . . . and that I had more legislative accomplishments," Durrette said.
A spokeswoman for Baliles dismissed Durrette's criticism as "a pretty predictable statement" that was "absolutely inaccurate and serves very short-term political purposes." She said Baliles had twice been voted as one of the most effective legislators in polls of legislators, lobbyists and news media representatives.
Durrette, 47, acknowledged that Baliles, 45, has kept him on the defensive during much of the summer over Durrette's switch on several major issues. On two issues, the Equal Rights Amendment and the limited rights of public employes to "meet and confer" over working conditions. Durrette supported both early in his legislative career but said he has opposed them for nearly 10 years.
In the interview, Durrette said he believes Virginia is becoming more of a Republican state and would seek to make Baliles' membership in the Democratic Party an issue in their Nov. 5 election.
"I haven't said [Baliles'] voting record . . . made him a national Democrat. I have said and argued that his position on the issues today and in this campaign are to a significant extent the same positions that other Democrats of the national and state variety . . . would take."
"He is proposing new government agencies. He is proposing new spending programs. I think he waffled on the right-to-work law. He's for the Equal Rights Amendment. He's for abortion on demand. He doesn't want to . . . strengthen capital punishment statutes. He hasn't been a leader on strong law enforcement or other corrections or law enforcement issues."
Durrette said he believes that the administration of Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb -- who under Virginia law cannot succeed himself -- is likely to be "a blip" on the curve of continued gains by Republicans in state politics. Robb led a sweep of all three statewide offices for Democrats in 1981.
"Republican candidates generally are perceived to be in that moderate to conservative spectrum more consistently so than their Democratic counterparts are," Durrette said. "Going back to '81, that was arguably not the case."