HOTSEAT- Republican with a cause: Linwood Holton tells all

Linwood Holton

Here's what it's like to visit the Virginia State Capitol with former Governor Linwood Holton: busy legislators stop, and everyone wants to say hello. He even suggests a tour of the Governor's Mansion, because even though he no longer resides there, his daughter and grandchildren do.

Big Stone Gap native Holton started in politics around 1950, a time when, he says, he was about the only Republican around. "I made the determination," he explains, "that I was going to break up the Byrd organization."

To understand the sheer chutzpah of a statement like that, one has to realize that the Harry Byrd machine pretty much controlled politics in Virginia, and there hadn't been a Republican governor in the state since Reconstruction.

It was the same nerve that took Holton from Big Stone Gap to Harvard. "Because it was there," he says, quoting a famous mountaineering slogan about attempting Mt. Everest.

"It was the number one school, and I wanted to see if I could compete with students in the number one school. I found out I could compete with them, and that enhanced my self esteem."

Self-esteem enhanced, Holton started his law career in Roanoke, which he saw as a new, independent city not tied to the Democratic tradition the way Lynchburg and Richmond were, and which he thought might provide a base for an upstart Republican.

"We're trying to create a two-party democracy so you can have a choice," he told voters, urging them to vote for the best candidate regardless of party.

That's advice Holton takes today, backing both Barack Obama and his Obama-backing son-in-law, Governor Tim Kaine. He's still a Republican, but he makes it clear he's not in lock step with the national party.

Any advice to Kaine, whose name has been floated as a possible veep to Obama's presidential campaign?

"I said, 'Tim, you have to finish your term,'" Holton says, but he adds that he offered that advice well before there was any sense Obama actually might be the Democratic candidate– and one, at that, who could use a Southern governor in the #2 slot.

 The iconic image of Holton is from 1970, when Virginia, which 14 years earlier had closed public schools, including Charlottesville's, under "massive resistance," was still fighting desegregation, this time through busing. As other whites were fleeing to private schools, Governor Holton enrolled his children in Richmond public schools.

"I could not have been more thrilled to make a statement for Virginia that rebutted our secession in 1861 and rebutted the actions of Virginia in repealing the 15th Amendment [that gives the right to vote regardless of race]," Holton says. He says he also was pleased to rebuke the massive resistance embraced by Harry Byrd and say to the world, "We will comply with the laws of this country because we are part of the Republic."

The Virginia Festival of the Book coincides with the release of Holton's book, Opportunity Time. The former governor and his wife, Jinks, will host the Authors' Reception at Carr's Hill March 29, and Holton joins his son, award-winning author Woody Holton, for a panel March 30.

The senior Holton says he decided to write his memoirs on the advice of Dumas Malone, who wrote a six-volume history of Thomas Jefferson. "He and I would drink a little whiskey and roam around Monticello," Holton reminisces. "He took me up to the Dome Room. He said to me one time, 'Governor, write your memoir. Otherwise, your views will never be known.'"

Age: 84

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The Miller Center

Least? I love it all.

Favorite hangout here? The Boars Head– I used to have a drink there with Chief Justice Warren Burger, Herbert Brownell, and some Roanoke friends. We called ourselves the "Executive Committee" of the Miller Center.

Most overrated virtue? I love Mr. Jefferson, but we do hear an inordinate amount of propaganda about him.

People would be surprised to know about you: That I dared utter anything that might sound like impertinence about Mr. Jefferson. 

What would you change about yourself? Why change? You've got to go with what you've got!

Proudest accomplishment? First: four successful years as governor of Virginia. Second: I led the effort to transfer National Airport and Dulles Airport from the federal government to a regional authority.

People find most annoying about you: That I have very fixed ideas. Some say I'm a curmudgeon!

Whom do you admire? President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Senator John Warner

Favorite book? Dumas Malone's six-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson

Subject that causes you to rant? Know-it-all people who talk too much

Biggest 21st-century thrill? The imminent nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate for president

Biggest 21st-century creep out? I don't know one.

What do you drive? 2005 Volvo station wagon

In your car CD player right now: None– I can't stand noise.

Next journey? Probable: New Zealand in October

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Trouble? What's that?

Regret: A few

Favorite comfort food: Ice cream– any kind that's cold and sweet

Always in your refrigerator: Ice cream

Must-see TV: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer 

Describe a perfect day. All of 'em

Walter Mitty fantasy: I don't know him.

Who'd play you in the movie? I'm not a movie fan.

Most embarrassing moment? Years ago, I pushed my son Woody, a great swimmer, into the very polluted Potomac. It was terrible. He could have drowned or caught some awful disease!

Best advice you ever got? Listen!

Favorite bumper sticker? Everyone is born right-handed. Only the greatest can change. (My wife is a lefty.)

Former Governor Linwood Holton talks about "20th-Century Virginia History– Living It, Writing It" at 1:30pm Sunday, March 30, at City Council Chambers.


1 comment

"Proudest accomplishment? ... Second: I led the effort to transfer National Airport and Dulles Airport from the federal government to a regional authority."

Yeah... b/c it's so much more convenient now to goto Dulles than Reagan. How about that metro stop at Dulles?