Virginia in the Vanguard: Political Leadership in the 400-Year-Old Cradle of American Democracy, 1981-2006

Article excerpt

Virginia in the Vanguard: Political Leadership in the 400-Year-Old Cradle of American Democracy, 1981-2006 * Frank B. Atkinson * Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Litdefield, 2006 * xxx, 338 pp. * $34.95

Frank Atkinson, a Richmond attorney and Republican activist, has written a political history of Virginia from 1981 to 2006. The work covers some of the same ground as the author's The Dynamic Dominion (1992), a history of the modern Virginia GOP. In spite of Atkinson's political involvement, both volumes are works of scholarship rather than partisanship. For Virginia in the Vanguard he conducted interviews with forty-seven individuals, Democrats and Republicans. Extensive research in newspapers and political publications complement the oral history. The interviews were especially valuable, enabling the author to offer new insights on candidates and campaigns.

Atkinson's thesis is that during the past three decades Virginia has purged the demons of the massive resistance era and in the process has become much more politically relevant to the nation. In fact, Atkinson writes that it has become "a frequent harbinger of national trends" (p. xxi). For example, the centrist Democratic gubernatorial administrations of Charles Robb and Gerald Baliles anticipated the election of Bill Clinton as president in 1992. In regard to policy, Governor George Allen's welfare reform plan foreshadowed comprehensive federal legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. In a departure from the political narrative, Atkinson, who served as Allen's counsel and policy director, provides an incisive chapter-length analysis of the policy innovations of that administration.

The author examines the major political trends in the commonwealth, such as the growing significance of the suburbs whose young voters favor fiscally conservative candidates while rejecting social conservatives. These voters have proven a major obstacle to the Christian Right, despite the fact that both the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have resided in Virginia. Atkinson also analyzes the Christian Right's contribution to the persistent factionalism in the Virginia Republican Party. He traces the disagreement to the 1981 state convention when the delegates, many of whom were conservative Christians, rejected the choice of the Coalition (the alliance of former Byrd Democrats and Republicans) for lieutenant governor and thereby produced a geographically imbalanced ticket and alienated wealthy contributors who already had their doubts about the party's choice for governor, Attorney General Marshall Coleman. …