Alan Robert Ogden rocks back on his thin metal chair and, for a moment or two, seems to be another of those young, earnest conservatives that this city, the capital of the Confederacy, is known for producing.
Virginia's economic troubles can be largely traced back to the Civil War and the way the South was treated during Reconstruction, he says. There are few political themes more popular here, except, perhaps, money, and Ogden quickly touches that.
The dollar is in bad shape, because, he says, it is no longer backed by gold. Worst of all to Ogden's way of thinking is the fact that no one, including the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor this year, seem to realize how much good Virginia Electric and Power Co., the state's big utility, has done. "Vepco," Ogden snaps, "has got to be defended."
For all these reasons, the mellow-voiced Ogden, 31, a University of Virginia honors graduate, should be just the candidate to sweep local voters off their feet in the Nov. 8 state elections.
The only trouble is: Ogden is a socialist, a Marxist, firmly committed to the belief that the world is on the edge of a nuclear holocaust ("There could be nuclear war any day," he insists.) and that he - not Democrat Henry E. Howell or Republican John N. Dalton - is the man Virginians will elect as their next governor.
Although no major state politician shares Ogden's confidence, there are some who fear that Ogden and his 50-member Virginia Labor Party may be able to capture enough votes this fall to affect the outcome of the expected close race between Howell and Dalton. Ogden, who has gathered from 10.4 per cent to 12.8 per cent of the vote in his three previous political races in Virginia, makes no secret that he would like to do just that.
"I hope I ruin Henry Howell's chance of getting the office," Ogden said the other day as he sat in the 10-by-12-foot cubicle in a small office building in south Richmond that serves as headquarters for both his campaign and the Virginia Labor Party.
A curved wooden pipe in one hand, jet black hair closely cropped, dressed in a button-down white shirt, tan slacks and worn Hush Puppies shoes, the 6 feet 4, 200-pound Ogden resembles a Marine home on leave rather than a radical politician. To most Virginia politicans, Ogden has clearly become an enigma that most wish would disappear.
"I just don't know how to regard Ogden's candidacy," said Howell campaign manager William Rosendahl. "Your guess is as good as mine." Thus far both Howell and Dalton have chosen to ignore Ogden - a task one Dalton aide said ins't easy when groups like the Richmond Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce place him at the head table along with the two major candidates.
Dalton press secretary Richard Lobb said he doubts that Ogden can be as effective in this campaign as he was running in a head-to-head race against U.S. Rep. David Satterfield (D-Va.), one of the Richmond area's most conservative politicians. Allowing for an anti-Satterfield "protest" vote. Lobb described the one out of every 10 votes that Ogden got in those two races as an "incredible" and "huge" precentage.
"Look, I don't think Henry Howell would be a good governor, but knowing what I know about this group, I"d rather people vote for Howell," said Lobb. He ins't alone in his misgivings about the Labor Party.
The FBI, fearing the Labor Party was part of a national group bent on taking control of the nation's government, by force if necessary, conducted widespread surveillance of the Virginia party and its members for years. According to copies of FBI field reports the U.S. Labor Party obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Ogden and his now estranged wife were being watched from the time they began organizing efforts in the Hampton Roads area in 1972 until 1976.
Claiming that the documents are "the tip of the iceberg," Ogden and the party's 16-year-old Virginia chairman, John Asher, sued FBI Director Clarence Kelley and a half-dozen Richmond and state officials charging them with circulating "a false picture of Alan Ogden as a violence-prone revolutionary terrorist." Ogden charged that a result of FBI investigation has been "an ongoing conspiracy" against him and the party by Virginia police since 1974.
In that period, there have been at least 24 arrests of party members on various charges growing out of their political activities, the suit alleged. Ogden himself was arrested nine times, convicted twice and acquitted seven times, the suit said.
Surprisingly, Ogden's allegations have won sympathy here from an unlikely source, U.S. District Court Judge D. Dortch Warriner. Last month the conservative Republican jurist halted a state judge from ordering Ogden off to prison and called Ogden's conspiracy allegation "a grave and a serious charge" that merited further study.
"Though it is difficult to believe that in this 201st year of our nation such a charge could be true, it is not wholly incredible and the undenied facts permit an inference consonant with the charge," he said.
Richmond officials, in their response to the suit, have said their attempt to imprison Ogden was a "routine procedure" that they began this spring after Ogden lost a lengthy appeals battle over a 1976 trespass conviction. Normally, final court action in such a case should trigger action to revoke a 12-month suspended sentence Ogden received in 1974 and make him serve that sentence also, the city officials said.
"Like other convicted individuals (Ogden) cannot use campaigns for political office to keep (himself) out of jail if he has broken the law," Richmond Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Stacy F. Garrett argued. Citing Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel, he added in a court brief filed with Warriner, "even politicians in office may be prosecuted."
Since Warriner has not set a trial date for Ogden's suit, that leaves him free to continue his unorthodox campaigning around the state. Ogden said he lives off a small sipend (the amount "varies" from month to month) he receives from the U.S. Labor Party, which finances most of the Virginia party's activities. Virginia is one of 25 states where the party claims active organizations.
At times seemingly arrogant (he calls himself "absolutely and self-evidently more qualified" than Howell or Dalton), Ogden has neither political buttons or bumpoer stickers. He depends on copies of the Labor Party's national publications and foreign socialists he brings into the state, such as a defeated Swedish candidate for prime minister he plans to take to Danville next week, to carry his message.
To date his most expensive campaign was his initial 1974 race against Satterfield when he spent $178.85 and got 2,116 votes. SInce then he cut his spending to a low of $1.80 in a 1975 state Senate race and has boosted his vote to as high as 17,503 in his 1976 congressional rematch against Satterfield.
On the political stump, Ogden's own rhetoric can be as calm as his praise for Vepco for pushing nuclear energy plants, a position that won him a laudatory editorial in a conservative Lynchburg newspaper. Or it can be as strident as his comments about Howell, who has long had the support of organized labor in the state. "Henry Howell is nothing but a Carter agent; a filthy Carter agent," Ogden sniffed the other day.
Ogden is more charitable toward Republican Dalton, although he accuses Dalton of having "follishly chosen to amplify Howell's treacherous policies" by recently questioning Vepco's atomic power plant construction costs. Vepco's commitment to atomic power is the reason Ogden said he firmly supports the controversial ultility.
Dalton's campaign worker Lobb, for one, wasn't surprised that Ogden and his small band managed to get the needed 15,000 signatures to put Ogden's name on the ballor this fall as an independent. "In this state, you can get people to sign petitions against bad weather," he said.