RARE ARE THE reports of significant conflict
of interest cases at the statewide political level in Virginia. Politicians of the Old Dominion have generally managed to keep their law practices and public service on separate tracks. But this year a controversial vote by a state highway commissioner has provided a temporary diversion in the gubernatorial campaign.
The vote in question, brought to light by Post staff writer Fred Hiatt, involved William B. Wrench, who represented Northern Virginia on the state highway commission. Mr. Wrench sponsored a rerouting of the Springfield Bypass in Fairfax County that would substantially improve the value of three of his own land holdings as well as a 387-acre tract belonging to his lawyer, John T. (Til) Hazel. Part of this design would place a lucky cloverleaf on Mr. Hazel's land; and the route would provide important access to and from the Wrench properties.
This wasn't the route that Fairfax County's supervisors approved after two years of study and public hearings, but on Mr. Wrench's recommendation, nine other state commission members joined him in approving the change. Said Mr. Wrench, "I don't give a rip what the Fairfax County board wants this Monday or next Monday. My responsibility is to the people of Virginia."
Enter Charles S. Robb, Democratic candidate for governor, to support the supervisors' call for reconsideration--and to imply that his Republican opponent, J. Marshall Coleman, had not been properly diligent in his capacity as attorney general; furthermore, Mr. Coleman received a contribution from Mr. Wrench, who was appointed to the commission in the first place by Republican Gov. John N. Dalton.
But Gov. Dalton and Mr. Coleman have acted quickly and correctly to clear the air. While the governor collected Mr. Wrench's resignation, Mr. Coleman returned his campaign contribution. Meanwhile, the commission has decided to review its decision to reroute the bypass.
There remains another case, involving a demand by Richard J. Davis, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, that Mr. Coleman investigate charges that his running mate, Nathan H. Miller, violated conflict of interest laws by promoting legislation that benefited his legal clients. Mr. Coleman and other Republicans have rejected Mr. Davis' demand. That, at least for now, is that.
Obviously, allegations of conflict of interest can become a campaign issue and should be pursued in their own right. But nothing so far known constitutes a serious reason for altering one's judgment of either candidate for governor.