A Report the other day said that many Virginians have yet to focus on the elections for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. But in terms of impact on the lives of all Virginians, the contests for these three top offices are the most important elections this state holds -- and the voters' decisions this year could have a singularly lasting bearing on the direction and quality of government in Richmond. In 1981, Virginians turned to Charles Robb, Richard J. Davis and Gerald Baliles for new leadership -- and this administration has proved popular, prudent and competent. It has blended a tradition of good government with a broader representation of the people the state government serves. More important, it has carried Virginia away from the shadows of antiquated attitudes and the vestiges of old-line organization politics that haunted the halls of state government since the days of massive resistance. The constructive momentum would be maintained best by the election of Mr. Baliles, L. Douglas Wilder and Mary Sue Terry.
The distinctions are not found in the checklists of position papers or microscopic comparisons of old voting records; nor are they based on any character defects. Wyatt Durrette, John Chichester and William R. (Buster) O'Brien are serious, dedicated Virginians whose respect for state office is unquestioned. Mr. Durrette in particular is a warm and engaging personality whose integrity and creative thinking about government are attractive qualities. He appears to be more willing, for example, to experiment than does Mr. Baliles, whose cautious approach can border on dullness.
There is a marked difference between the two tickets in overall experience and administrative abilities:
*Mr. Baliles not only has held state office as a member of the Robb administration, but also has won national recognition among his peers this year as the outstanding attorney general in the United States.
*Mr. Wilder has more legislative experience than the last five lieutenant governors combined, with 15 years in the state senate and service as chairman of three of its most important committees and membership on a fourth. Mr. Wilder also was ranked by fellow legislators, state officials, lobbyists and reporters as among the five most effective members of the senate.
*Delegate Terry is a veteran of eight years in the state legislature, with experience as a prosecutor and with endorsements from the overwhelming majority of past presidents of the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association as well as from trial lawyers, the Fraternal Order of Police and commonweath's attorneys.
There is something far more important at stake in Virginia this year. However uncomfortable it may have made Mr. Durrette and his running mates, this ticket is burdened with the heavy presence of a political past best left behind. It is embodied in the strong influence of former governor Mills E. Godwin and surviving members of the old Byrd organization who rallied to create this ticket and whose presence in the Republican campaign is as strong as it is troubling. Try as he may have to exert control of and independence from this wing of the party, Mr. Durrette has not done so. This failure has troubled members of his own party and has contributed to internal differences that have hurt the campaign.
Virginia has an opportunity in this election to wring out of its politics this element that has distracted attention from efforts to improve education, economic development, transportation and financial stability for all Virginians. The Robb administration has shown the way. A Baliles-Wilder- Terry victory could build on these impressive accomplishments.