Politics & Policy

The Once and Future Senator?

George Allen talks to NRO.

George Allen needs little introduction. He smiled on NR’s cover in 2005, with the headline “His Future Is Now: Sen. George Allen, first-string presidential talent out of Virginia,” and many Republicans saw a 2008 presidential bid in the cards. But the 2006 reelection bid offered an unpleasant shock. A national anti-Republican tide proved particularly strong in Virginia, and his campaign hit a major stumble when Allen was caught sneering at a Webb volunteer, calling him “macaca.” A relentless press focus on the incident helped Democrat Jim Webb beat Allen by about 9,000 votes, less than one half of one percent.

Allen announced this week he is running for his old seat again in the 2012 cycle.

NRO: It’s been a few cycles since 2006. Why come back now?

George Allen: I’m asking the people of Virginia to hire me on for another six years because traveling throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, Susan and I have been listening to people and their worries about our country, whether their children’s opportunities or their own jobs. People watch what’s going on in Washington and say, “they’re ignoring us.” I look at the people as the owners of the government, but the government looks upon them with disdain. In Washington they are not representing the values and views of the people of Virginia. The elections in 2012 are pivotal in determining the trajectory of our country and whether we’ll continue declining with limited opportunities or whether we can begin ascending again and making sure this is the land of opportunity for all.

I want to use all of my efforts and talents and go to Washington to fight for them. I want to restore the foundational principles of freedom, personal responsibility, and opportunity of all.

NRO: Let’s get the obvious out of the way. It’s likely your rivals may bring up a particular six-letter word that starts with M. How will you respond?

Allen: This campaign is going to be about the future. For those who want to discuss that, I will forthrightly say that I drew a college student into the race when I should not have. He was simply doing his job, following me around and filming me all over Virginia. I should not have made him part of the issue. I regret it, I apologized for it, and I take responsibility.

The other aspect that I regret is that it allowed the opposition to have the discussion of the campaign diverted away from issues that matter to people and their families and mischaracterize the kind of person I am.

My family suffered tremendously because of my mistake. I don’t want to see my wife and children endure taunts and insults because of me. It was a mistake, I learned from it, and I’m going to be a much more focused, disciplined candidate. I’ll make sure we’re discussing our solutions and achievable goals and reforms that the people care about.

NRO: You’ll also probably hear that as a former senator, you’re a “Washington insider.” Now, “Washington insiders” who have lifetime ACU ratings in the 90s aren’t really the primary problem that I worry about –

Allen: [laughter] I was looking at my Americans for Tax Reform ratings — 95, 95, 100, 100. And National Federation of Independent Business on small-business issues: all 100s.  Builders and Contractors, all 100s. Chamber of Commerce — all a bunch of hundreds. 100 percent, Christian Coalition. 100 percent, National Right to Life. Focus on the Family, 100. NRA, A-plus . . .  I’m a conservative, and always have been a commonsense, Jeffersonian conservative. That mischaracterization of the facts and of my record is disappointing. I have always trusted free people and free enterprise and don’t like a meddling, nanny government that limits or pesters people in their lives.

I have always been fighting the establishment, going back to when I was governor reforming welfare, reforming education, and abolishing parole. [It was] the same in the Senate, just trying to reform the Senate in Washington. I have been a longtime proponent of a balanced budget and presenting the president with the authority of the line-item veto, which I had as governor. One good example of that, one that people will readily remember is that infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska. I was one of about a dozen senators who voted against that, to the chagrin of the leadership including the leadership of that committee from Alaska. That’s an example of standing up to the establishment, but also a prime example of why the president should have line-item-veto authority.

The other thing is Congress is too dilatory in performing its job. They dawdle all year long and never get appropriations bills done on time. I’m giving a speech to home builders in Richmond at their annual conference. I’m going to tell them that we need to get back to commonsense ideas, and one is to withhold pay of members of Congress if they don’t get their job done, like appropriations bills. The reason I’ll be bringing it up there is that this will be an audience of men and women who are contractors. I’ll be asking them, “If you don’t finish your job, do you get paid?” They’ll say “No,” and I’ll say, “That’s exactly how it should be in Congress as well.”

NRO: How have you changed since 2006?

Allen: I’m wiser. While I don’t like losing, you learn a lot from losing and you learn from your mistakes. The team that I want to assemble will be competent people who know Virginia.

I’ve been out of government, and seen what government has done. I’ve been out working with private companies. It brings an appreciation of the way that government rules and regulations and taxes affect people in the private sector, and I can bring those experiences to bear as well.

I have a daughter who just graduated from college. I’ve seen how she and her friends are going into the world of work and having a hard time finding jobs. Some of her friends have big debts and big loans and are moving back in with their parents. The American dream is tough for young people, and it’s harder to realize these days.

NRO: Evaluate Jim Webb’s performance as Virginia’s senator.

Allen: I’ll preface this by saying I admire and appreciate his service to our country in the armed forces. As a senator, he’ll say one thing to Virginians and then vote, unfortunately, with the Washington liberals — Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi on so many issues.

The differences that I have with Senator Webb on issues include supporting Virginia’s right-to-work law, where he voted to undermine it by allowing public employees to have collective-bargaining rights. That is contrary to the laws of Virginia, and having been governor, I know how important and valuable right-to-work laws are as a matter of principle of individual freedom for men and women. But it’s also a great competitive advantage for Virginia to be the state farthest north on the eastern seaboard with right-to work-laws.

I know there are so many jobs and companies that we recruited into Virginia that wanted to serve states to the north of us, but [they wouldn’t relocate there because] those states didn’t have right-to-work laws, and so they weren’t even on the field of competition.

I disagree also with the abdication of the constitutional responsibility of elected representatives, including senators, to determine laws, rather than unelected bureaucrats. He voted wrong on that resolution of disapproval of the EPA regulating CO2. That’s him turning his back on affordable electricity and fuel in our country. It means so many unnecessary job losses ruining the competitiveness of our country. Whether it’s cap-and-trade by Congress, or cap and trade imposed by unelected bureaucrats, the effect is economic unilateral disarmament. The reason I say that is that no other country in the world — China, Brazil, India, Australia — would impose these burdens on their own citizens. No country would do this to their own citizens, to artificially increase the costs and have skyrocketing electricity, fuel, and food costs.

Everyone knows we have a difference of opinion on this massive health-care experiment with all of its mandates, dictates, and dependency on government. One of the best things I did was to nominate Henry Hudson to be the judge for the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia. He’s the one who struck down that mandate on people, that dictate that they must buy insurance. That’s the type of judge I like. He was a key leader when we were abolishing parole when I was governor.

NRO: There have been some murmurs that Webb may not run for reelection. Any thoughts?

Allen: Susan and I and my family made our decision, and it was a prayerful decision, to seek the consent of people of Virginia to hire me to serve six years in the U.S. Senate. That’s something that Jim and his wife and whoever his close counselors may be will have to decide on their own. It’s a very personal decision. Ultimately, this decision of who serves is made by the people of Virginia.

We’re on the second day of my campaign, and we’re assembling our team, getting our team in order, and finding the best ways to get our positive, constructive message out to the people of Virginia. It’s essential in any campaign, regardless of who your opponent is, to let people know what you would do if you were accorded the honor and responsibility of serving in the U.S. Senate.  I’m going to be focused on reining in government and getting our economy moving on the path toward prosperity, and that includes discussing energy policy.

We’re number one in the world when it comes to energy resources, but our country has been punting for decades on energy policy. We need to unleash our plentiful natural resources in America as well as our creativity so that we don’t get jerked around by these hostile dictators, oligarchs, and cartels when we have the resources under our land and under our water. That’s an issue that affects jobs, our competitiveness, our quality of life, our balance of trade, and, indeed, our national security. We have such a vulnerability to countries that are averse to our values and interests.

NRO: You’ll be running in a presidential year. Obama won Virginia in 2008; why do you think he won what had traditionally been a Republican state and how do you see the presidential campaign impacting your Senate race?

Allen: Part of it remains to be seen . . .  Clearly it will have an impact, it’s a presidential year, and Virginia is a very competitive state. Our campaign is taking nothing for granted. We’re going to have to earn the support of the people in this campaign.

The key in any election is the independent voters. A Republican cannot win with Republicans alone or a Democrat with only Democrats. The key is those independent voters. Independent voters in 2006 and 2008 were going with the Democrats. In 2008, there was this whole financial meltdown, the whole panicked reaction to it, the bailouts. The auto bailout was a little after, but it was so wrong to do that, to take taxpayer money and prop up failing companies — it’s so wrong to do that, wrong as a matter of principle and as a matter of process. The economy was in terrible shape and has largely stayed that way. The difference between now and then is how much more national debt there is. It has skyrocketed with more spending on bailouts and more spending on stimulus, which has not created the jobs that were promised. You have the federal government taking over so many aspects of the economy, particularly in the health-care industry. You have these looming concerns about tax increases. I’m glad they prevented a tax increase, but it’s only for two years.  Employers don’t know that they’ll be hit with taxes in the future. They don’t know what burdens for insurance they’ll have for employees. The whole issue of the EPA moving forward on regulating CO2 means anyone who is in an energy-intensive industry, whether it’s a high-tech company or manufacturers, doesn’t know what sort of energy costs they’ll face in the future. We need to make sure we have the right economic, energy, and regulatory policies to make sure America is the best place in the world to invest and create more jobs. Generally, what is coming out of Washington is contrary to that.

NRO: Gov. Bob McDonnell did quite well for a Republican in the Democrat-leaning suburbs of Northern Virginia. Can you win, or compete, in Northern Virginia? Have you put thought into how you can perform better there than in 2006?

Allen:  A lot of things are different than in 2006. People were very much concerned about how the military action in Iraq was going and they were upset with the president and the secretary of defense. Iraq is on the right course these days. We’re going after every voter. In my view, any voter who pays taxes, works for a living, or wants to work for a living, or cares about their family and community, should be on our side. I think the achievable reforms that I’m advocating, whether it’s the fiscal ones about reining in the government or the ones to reinvigorate our economy with more jobs and more investment, are ideas that are not just theories. They’re proven ways of getting people to have greater opportunity and prosperity. You know, people in northern Virginia do have to pay for electricity and gasoline.

We’re conceding no county. We want to do well in northern Virginia; we want to do well in all of Virginia. I think we’ll do much better with them, but we’re going to have to work hard to earn their votes.

—Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.


The Latest