Virginia Gov.-elect John N. Dalton today selected Dr. Jean L. Harris, a former Howard University Medical School professor, to be the state's secretary of human resources. She will be the first woman and the first black person to fill a high-level, policy-making state government position in Virginia's history.
At the same time, Dalton kept on four high-ranking officials now serving in the administration of Gov. Mills E. Godwin to fill four of the other five cabinet positions.
They include Charles Walker, now the state's comptroller, who will become secretary of administration and finance, the state's top appointed administrative officer. Walker will replace Maurice B. Rowe III, who will become secretary of commerce and resources, a post he held from 1972-74.
H. Selwyn Smith, a former state senator and commonwealth's attorney in Prince William County, will continue as secretary of public safety and Wayne A. Whitham will continue as secretary of transportation, a post he has held since it was created in 1972.
Still to be named is the sixth cabinet officer, the secretary of education. The post is now held by Robert R. Ramsey who has told Dalton that he will resign and seek a job in higher education.
Dalton's appointment of Dr. Harris, now a professor at the Medical College of Virginia, is an early step toward fulfillment of his campaign promises to bring more black Virginians and women into top government jobs. In a campaign speech before the state's largest black church congregation, the Cedar Street Memorial Baptist Church of God in Richmond, Dalton promised that black persons serving in his administration would be "policy makers, not a lot of special assistants serving as ambassador to the black community."
The governor-elect also has stressed in post-elected speeches that the future of the Republican Party in Virginia depends in large part on bringing more black persons into it. He told a party gathering in Arlington Saturday night that an election analysis shows he won 16 per cent of the black vote in his overwhelming victory over Democrat Henry E. Howell.
This seemingly small percentage, Dalton said, actually was a significant gain that resulted from a vigorous appeals for black votes in a contest with a Democrat who has collected more than 95 per cent of the black vote in previous statewide races.
Dalton had been thought likely to name campaign cochairman Frank Royal to be his secretary of human resources. However, Royal, a black Richmond physician, withdrew himself from consideration last week because of his preoccupation with the establishment of a black community hospital in Richmond.
Dalton said he met Dr. Harris for the first time only four days ago and said Royal had recommended her for the cabinet job. Unless Dalton fills the education post with a black person or a female, Harris will be the highest-ranking government official of her race or sex in either Virginia or Maryland when she takes office on Jan. 14.
The Virginia cabinet system was put into effect in 1972 and Maryland's cabinet is only slightly older. Only one black person and one woman have served as secretaries in Maryland, both in the position comparable to the human resources job in Virginia.
While taking note of the symbolic importance of her appointment, Dalton said at a news conference, "I have chosen Dr. Harris because of her qualifications, not because of her race."
Dr. Harris, 46, is the director of the center for community health at the Medical College of Virginia, where she waas the first black graduate in 1955. She is a professor in the school's department of family practice.
Before returning to Richmond in 1973 to take the MCV professorship, she spent 13 years in Washington in private practice and as first an instructor of medicine and then assistant professor of community health practice at Howard.
She was chief of the bureau of resources development for the D.C. Health Department for three years and chairman of the D.C. Board of Licensure on Nursing Home Administration for three years.
She has served on numerous D.C. and federal health commissions and study groups as a consultant or member.
As human resources secretary Harris will oversee 10 agencies, including the welfare department and the agencies that carry out the government's role in health and mental health care.
It a frequently controversial area of govenrment. For instance, state health officials and the governor currently are weighting a state health board recommendation that Virginia's Medicaid program stop paying for elective abortions, those that do not threaten the life of the pregnant woman.
At today's news conference Harris said in response to questions, "As a person who had been in Virginia for a long time, naturally I have strong feelings about many issues. However, I would not want to discuss any of them at this time."
The Dalton administration is expected to have a stronger Republican cast than those of his immediate predecessors, Godwin and Linwood HoltoN, the state's first Republican governors since Reconstruction. However, this expectation was not fulfilled in today's appointments.
Holdover Whitham is the only cabinet appointee who has a clearly Republican political history.
Smith held elected office as a conservative Democrat of the type, like former Democrat Godwin, who have drifted toward the Republican Party in Virginia in recent years. Rowe is a career government official who became closely identified with his conservative Democratic employers. Walker has no particular political history.
Harris showed herself to be more absorbed with health care than politics by saving in answer t a question that she is "a registered Democrat in Virginia." State law does not provide for registration by party. However, she said he voted for Dalton.
Dalton today reiterated his intention to use his cabinet as his primary management team. A long tradition of direct dealing between some department heads and the governor and failure of the General Assembly to give the recently created cabinet full administrative powers have combined to cast the secretaries in an advisory rather than administrative role during the first five years of the system.
Dalton said that he expects to be the state's "chief manager" and will look to his new secretary of administration and finance primarily for fiscal advice and administration. Walker is a certified public accountant who held top-level corporate fiscal management positions before becoming comptroller of the state in 1974. Rowe was an agriculture specialist who rose to the administration and finance post through the state bureaucracy.