And not everything was great during his administration.
Linwood Holton, elected in 1969 as the first Republican governor of Virginia, must have been surprised to learn in the Post's Jan. 1 issue ("Robb: New Image for State") that his successor by a dozen years took office in 1982 to "bring Virginia into the 20th century."
After all, it was Holton who in 1970 set as the state's goal the task to make itself a model for race relations in America. In fact, The Post praised Holton's administration for its civil rights stands and Holton personally for his courage in sending his own children to the then newly desegregated Richmond public schools.
Republican Gov. John N. Dalton (1979-82) also may have been surprised at the failure to recognize the achievements of his administration, too, for it was Dalton, and not Robb, who appointed the first black to the Virginia Cabinet and a black to every college board in Virginia, and appointed hundreds of blacks and women to important posts in state government, even as his predecessor, Republican Gov. Mills Godwin (1974-78) had earlier appointed the first black to a circuit judgeship in Virginia.
Indeed, contrary to the impression created by The Post's story, most of the Robb "accomplishments" are the product of new departures and initiatives taken by his Republican predecessors. For example: the standards of quality for public schools that have actually upgraded public education in Virginia were initiated in 1972 by Holton when today's high school seniors were in kindergarten. The trend in improving college board scores in Virginia has plainly resulted from a decade-long implementation of farsighted standards initiated by Republicans. In fact, college board scores today are statistically about the same under Robb as they were under Dalton.
Fighting growth in government was one of the hallmarks of past Republican administrations. Real and effective curbs on expansion in government antedate Robb's ascension. In fact, growth in state government was effectively ended by Dalton in the late 1970s. The first settlement with the Department of Health Education and Welfare over integration in our colleges and universities was initiated not by the Robb administration but by Dalton in 1978.
Why then does Robb get so much credit for the apparent well-being of the Old Dominion? First, as an editorial in the same edition of The Post points out, governors by nature are a popular breed. This has been especially true in Virginia because the governor cannot be reelected, has a line-item veto power over the state budget and is by law heavily involved in the legislative process. Added to this are the remarkable and broad powers to make thousands of appointments to state boards and commissions. So little incentive exists for resistance or criticism either by members of the state legislature or by many opinion leaders.
Second, unlike the Republican governors, who served while the Democrats overwhelmingly controlled both houses of the legislature, Robb's own party totally dominatd all branches of state government during his term. Moreover, the 200 or so public relations officers in various state agencies, paid for at taxpayer expense, sing from the same score, "state government is doing quite well, thank you." As the governor's own recently commissioned report -- also at taxpayer's expense -- concludes "ain't he done great." And, owing to the policies of President Reagan, another Republican, the economy of the nation -- including Virginia -- is doing very well, again to Robb's benefit.
It's understandable why he enjoys favorable and popular ratings. However, to set the record straight, there is another side to the Robb aistration record. For example: a progressive transportation policy, particularly for Northern Virginia was nonexistent. There simply were no new initiatives. The recent changes in the road funding formula emanated not from the governor, who kept hands off, but from the legislature. Real reform in public education stood still for the Robb years -- no guarantees for teacher salaries, and remember the merit pay promised in 1981? It was dropped, and if it ever comes to Virginia it will be in spite of the Robb and Baliles administration. Community college tuition increased from $350 in 1981 to more than $700 today, making it the highest in the South, one of the highest in the nation and thus making this education window more inaccessible for low- and middle-income Virginians.
Problems in criminal sentencing and corrections actually grew. The largest death-row breakout in U.S. history occurred on May 31, 1984, in Virginia and was followed by months of riots, hostage-takings and violence all accompanid by a revolving corrections director's door -- five in four years. (During the period of the various prison crises, Gov. Robb was out of the state 11 times, slightly more times than there were breakouts.) Paroles have been the highest in history and the recidivism rate of convicted felons released on parole went up over 200 percent.
Not only have Virginia public safety programs been a state and national disgrace, but Robb is the only governor in the last 16 years not to initiate new corrections facilities. The budget, instead, has been used to create 60 questionable special-interest programs, leaving an ever-increasing problem of no more room in the prisons. Virginians will pay for Robb's neglect of this problem for years to come.
Spending has increased unabated. The Virginia budget has grown from $11.5 billion in the last Dalton administration to $17.5 billion in the Robb budget to be submitted this week -- a 52 percent increase at a time when the nation has virtually eliminated inflation.
Gov. Robb has taken away from the 500 senior managers in Virginia government the protection of civil service laws and converted them to patronage appointments. He has politicized state government in a way never experienced before, staffing it with scores of refugees from the Carter administration. And while he froze salary increases for nearly 80,000 classified state employees for more than two years, at the same time he gave extraordinary raises to his inner circle of political appointees. Indeed, while Virginia prison guards remained the worst paid in America, his political aides got salary increases from 20 percent to 50 percent in one year alone.
No one doubts that Chuck Robb has many virtues. He ranks high on likability and deserves an A on public relations; but on substance his administration has been wanting. To his benefit, the loyal opposition has been nearly silent. He has had in the words of political scientist Larry Sabato "four virtually criticism-free years as governor." But for the good of Virginia this should not continue.
The Democrats aren't entitled to a free ride, and Virginians cannot afford one. When one party entirely dominates all branches of government, the danger of abuse is great. It is understandable why the Robb administration is getting such good press. But it's not healthy for only one side to be heard. The loyal opposition is derelict unless it points out failures and omissions.