Daniel Chichester, brother of the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of Virginia, John H. Chichester, was appointed Commonwealth's attorney of Stafford County by a state judge. A story in Monday's editions incorrectly said the appointment was made by his father. The story also erred in saying former Virginia governor John N. Dalton was among the Republicans that John Chichester has flown around the state in his private airplane.
When Virginia Republicans met in Norfolk this summer to pick their nominees for the fall elections, many said they wanted one thing in their candidate for lieutenant governor: a lack of controversy.
Wary of the conflict-of-interest problems that had plunged their nominee into an unexpected defeat four years ago, the party turned to state Sen. John H. Chichester, a relatively unknown legislator from Stafford County, which is on the southern fringe of the Washington suburbs.
Chichester, a 48-year-old insurance executive with gray hair, a toothy grin and serious demeanor, had been the quintessential foot soldier in the Virginia Republican cause. A former Democrat, he displayed unwavering loyalty to the party's conservative tenets in the legislature and, whenever Republican Gov. John N. Dalton needed a ride to a political event, there was Chichester offering to pilot Dalton in his personal airplane.
Chichester, noted Richmond attorney Richard Cullen with approval, "brings noncontroversy to the ticket. He's a safety choice. He didn't have enemies, people don't speak badly of him. He's a team player."
In recent weeks, however, Chichester (pronounced Chee-chester) has brought controversy and, perhaps, liabilities to the Republican ticket.
It was disclosed that 18 months after his Fredericksburg insurance company was fined $250 for violating a state insurance law, Chichester sponsored and won approval of legislation that effectively prevents state authorities from fining insurance agents for the same offense. Chichester said that his action was not a conflict of interest and said he was only attempting to repeal a law that was "absolutely silly." (In 1981, state Sen. Nathan H. Miller was criticized for promoting legislation that benefited clients of his law firm.)
More troubling to some in the GOP have been persistent questions about Chichester's campaign and fears that he is not working hard enough in his battle against Democratic state Sen. L. Douglas Wilder of Richmond, the first black to be nominated by a major party for statewide office in Virginia. One Republican privately scolded Chichester as the "invisible man" on the campaign trail.
A poll released Friday seemed to reinforce some of the concerns. It showed that of the six candidates seeking statewide office in the Nov. 5 elections, Chichester has the lowest name recognition. Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed said they did not know who he is.
The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon Opinion Research Inc. of Columbia, Md., for several newspapers, indicated that Chichester's lead over Wilder has been cut in half since June. The survey, completed last week, said 37 percent of the voters polled favored Chichester, compared to 32 percent who said they would vote for Wilder.
Chichester, who was the only Republican shown in the poll to be leading, shrugs off most of the concerns. "I can't do more than I'm doing," he said.
Nor does he worry that many voters do not recognize his name. His campaign, he said, has been primarily focused at party workers, and he has not yet begun his television advertising.
Republican campaign officials who asked not to be identified say that former governor Mills Godwin -- the conservative stalwart of the GOP in Virginia and perhaps the most influential force in the Chichester campaign -- has criticized Chichester for not sharply attacking Wilder, whom the Republicans targeted early in the campaign as having one of the most liberal voting records in the legislature.
In contrast to the early attacks, Chichester has used his conservative voting record in Richmond as the foundation of what he considers to be a positive campaign, one that stresses that he is the only full-time business person in the race. What he lacks in his own legislative initiatives -- he has introduced only one measure that directly affected business and industrial promotion in the state -- he tried to compensate with a record that has given him consistently high marks from business groups such as the state Chamber of Commerce and other conservative organizations.
"He's bringing the Byrd Republicans to the ticket, and that's a whole lot," said state Del. Vincent Callahan of Fairfax County, the Republican minority leader in the House.
Chichester has molded his campaign rhetoric around what has become traditional Republican strategy in Virginia, a belief that most Virginians think Democrats are too liberal for the state. "Where we represent a political philosophy of limited government, free enterprise and traditional family values, theirs is government for the special interests and a tool for social tinkering," Chichester said at a recent appearance with his running mates.
"A person can be diverse in their agenda," Chichester said in a recent interview, turning aside suggestions that he had begun raising concerns about economic issues only after he became a candidate for state office. "The concern is not new with me; the concentration would be new."
Most of the bills he has introduced in his seven years as a senator have dealt with local issues or criminal matters. He gained some attention for an unsuccessful bill that would have expanded the rights of parents to educate their children at home, a measure teacher groups opposed, saying it would erode the state's commitment to public schools.
While many of legislative colleagues describe him as "a nice, friendly guy," they say he has never been recognized as influential or as a leader. State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan (D-Fairfax) said, "I don't think he had a reputation as anything; except what I think was a very foolish move he made on ERA. That's about what he's famous for -- or infamous for."
Chichester drew wide attention in 1980 when he effectively scuttled the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia by refusing to vote on the measure by invoking the Senate's conflict-of-interest rule. Chichester, who opposes the ERA, said then he had "a personal interest" in serving his constitutents and believed they could best be served "by not voting at all."
The move dumbfounded ERA proponents, who, under the Senate's rules, were not allowed to question another senator's motives. If Chichester had voted against the ERA, it would have created a tie vote, which would have thrown the issue into the hands of then-Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb. Robb had said he would have voted in favor of the ERA. As a constitutional amendment, the measure could not have passed by the one-vote margin it had prior to Chichester's action.
Such political maneuvering should be second nature to Chichester. He is a member of an affluent, well-entrenched family that has dominated Stafford County politics for three generations. His grandfather was a judge there; his father was commonwealth's attorney for 32 years and appointed Chichester's son, Daniel, the chief prosecutor, a position he continues to hold.
Chichester's father served as a loyal lieutenant in the machine that was organized by Sen. Harry F. Byrd and controlled Virginia politics for decades. John Chichester entered Virginia politics as a Democrat, but after losing his first political campaign, for the party's nomination to the House of Delegates to the liberal George Rawlings of Fredericksburg in 1969, he left the party for the GOP.
He won his current seat in a special election in 1978 after the death of a Byrd Democrat, a weekly newspaper publisher who had represented the area for more than a decade.
Chichester had attended -- but did not graduate from -- Virginia Polytechnic Institute, sang in a barbershop quartet, served in the Army Reserve, the Rotary Club, Jaycees and Lodge No. 4 AF & AM, and was himself a 32nd Degree Scottish Rite Mason. In short, he had all the civic qualifications and easily won his first race as a Republican.
Longtime acquaintances say it was Chichester's uncle, Dan Chichester, who most influenced his life. The uncle not only nurtured young John's interest in politics, but also eventually turned over his Fredericksburg insurance company to him.
Chichester has used his position as head of the family insurance business to promote himself as the "only full-time businessman" seeking statewide office in the elections.
Chichester said he joined Chichester Inc., his uncle's insurance business, in 1959 and eventually became its owner and president.
Until recent years, a large share of the firm's business came from insurance contracts it held with government agencies in the Fredericksburg area. Since 1981, however, Chichester Inc. has lost some of the contracts in the competitive bidding that the state now requires.
Stafford County accountant Bob Warsing said the county government saved almost $50,000 on its annual insurance policies when it dropped Chichester's company in favor of an agent who offered a lower bid in 1982.
In neighboring Spotsylvania County, where Chichester's company held insurance contracts for years, agents began underbidding his prices in 1981. On one policy covering utility properties, a competing agency won the contract by offering a price more than one-third lower than what Chichester's company had charged the year before.
Chichester attributed the dramatic difference in costs to what he termed a "soft market" in the insurance industry. He said he has since stopped bidding on most government contracts because "it is not profitable."
During the campaign, Chichester has left the family business in the hands of his wife Karen. Holly, a 17-year-old daughter by his first marriage, has joined him on the campaign trail.
As for the campaign, Chichester expresses optimism. "I have an agenda," he said. "I'm following it."