Have you heard the one about Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) running for president in 2008 ["Warner Taking First Steps Toward White House Run," Fairfax Extra, June 16]?

To some people, it's no joke. Yet few of the people who are pressing Warner to run for president seem to be Virginians. The suggestion comes mostly from left-wing pundits and tax-craving activists who imbue Warner with mythical status, believing that the Democratic governor persuaded the Republican-controlled state legislature to raise taxes last year. That belief is akin to giving the zookeeper credit for lions eating red meat.

Led by Finance Committee Chairman John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland), Republicans in the state Senate had proposed to raise taxes even more than Warner wanted. The governor hardly had to woo obstinate lawmakers to his point of view.

Nor can Warner pretend that he charmed Chichester into carrying water for his administration: Chichester championed taxes -- e.g., fought the car-tax reduction -- when James S. Gilmore III was governor.

Moreover, the dubious achievement of signing into law the largest tax increase in Virginia's history may be Warner's only significant success. Voters rejected by referendum the governor's proposal to raise regional sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.

The governor's own words in 2002 reflected his meager accomplishments. "When I look back over our first year," he said after 11 months in office, "I realize just how many challenges we have faced. We confronted redistricting; a tire fire in Roanoke; floods and the worst drought in modern history; avian flu; the continued struggle in the war against terrorism; a senseless shooting at the Appalachian School of Law; and a series of tragic sniper attacks."

The governor was so desperate for a victory by 2003 that he was reduced to making seat-belt enforcement the centerpiece of his legislative agenda -- and lawmakers rejected that, too. If not for Chichester, Warner might be leaving office with a barely discernible trace.

Contrast that with the record of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) when he was governor. Under Allen's leadership, Virginia instituted the Standards of Learning, which other states now use as a model for academic improvement. Working with Secretary of Public Safety Jerry W. Kilgore, Allen abolished parole for felons, overhauled the juvenile justice system and instituted Project Exile, which mandates a five-year minimum jail term for felons caught carrying guns. Not surprisingly, violent crime in Virginia took a nosedive.

The Allen administration reformed welfare. Under Allen's watch, high-tech firms set up shop in the commonwealth, and a law was passed requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortions.

If Virginians want to send one of their own to the White House, isn't Allen a more obvious choice than Warner?

Like Ronald Reagan, Allen espouses conservatism tempered by a sunny optimism. Allen defends principles staunchly, yet he has the capacity for collegiality. Most important, he exhibits courage -- a quality that will be crucial for future presidents.

Americans need a leader who will remind them that fear is the enemy of freedom. They need a president who will not be seduced by the perks of personal protection. There is something grotesque about a commander-in-chief sending soldiers to face death in the world's hellholes while being unwilling to face the risk of cars passing a bombproof, bunker-equipped White House.

A President Allen almost certainly would not insist that protesters be cordoned away from his sight in "free-speech zones," as George W. Bush does. Allen would reopen Reagan National Airport to general aviation. Democracy would have an ally on the home front.

And what would Warner do besides flack for taxes? It is difficult to imagine the mindset of people who place such value on raising taxes that they would send to the White House a man with almost no other political accomplishments.

Putting a Virginian in the White House is a worthy aim, but that individual ought to be able to boast about more than confronting a tire fire and the threat of avian flu.