Veteran Governor addresses students

by J.B. Potter ’11

As a part of its ongoing mission, the Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest brings speakers to campus to discuss significant issues bearing on leadership and public affairs. On January 20 (just days before he announced he would be running for the U.S. Senate again), the Center welcomed longtime Virginia politician George Allen. The Republican represented Virginia in the U.S. Senate form 2000 to 2006. Prior to that, he served in the Virginia state legislature, in the U.S. House of Representatives, and as the 67th governor of Virginia. Also, he was the College's commencement speaker in 1995.

George Allen
George Allen, former Govenor of Virginia and U.S. Senator
Drawing on his wealth of experience in public office, Governor Allen gave a talk entitled "Governmental Leadership: The Challenges of State and Federal Governance."

Having served in both state and federal office, Governor Allen was able to use his firsthand experience to compare and contrast the two levels of government. Each level of government has unique responsibilities. Because a state government is "closer to the people." its two chief responsibilities are law enforcement and education. The federal government, on the other hand, says Allen, deals with national security and foreign affairs. Different responsibilities necessitate different styles of leadership. "Being governor is like being a CEO," says Allen. "Being a senator is like being on the Board of Directors." In both cases, though, it is essential to develop a concrete conception of the proper role of government.

According to Governor Allen, an elected official's political principles should guide and define him. His personal political philosophy is encapsulated in what President Thomas Jefferson called "the sum of good government." Quoting Jefferson, Governor Allen says he believes in "a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned."

Embracing such an approach to government in theory is easier than putting that approach into practice. Allen emphasized that it is difficult to change the status quo in public service. "If you, as a politician, run your campaign on an agenda, it is incumbent upon you to keep your promises."

Governor Allen added that to make good on political promises, it is important for a government official to have a dedicated and talented team, who can identify and implement innovative solutions. He recalled the dynamic team he had during his tenure as Governor. From 1994 to 1998, he worked with officials from across the Commonwealth to decrease crime rates by cracking down on parole for repeat offenders. His team also focused on economic development and educational reform, because an efficient market and educated citizenry are, as Governor Allen puts it, "essential parts of a vibrant state."

Mr. Allen is the father of Forrest Allen '13.