Miller time: Baliles to head Miller Center

The scores of politically savvy septuagenarians expected to hear a speech by a D.C.-based Chicago Tribune journalist at a typical Miller Center forum, but overnight ice quashed her trip. So the bonus portion of the December 16 event became the main event: the announcement that Gerald Baliles is coming to Charlottesville to head that prestigious center for public affairs.

"You are the guy," Bill Wood exclaimed to the former governor after Baliles was introduced as the new head of UVA's think tank on presidents and policies.

"He's the right person for this job," said Wood, a former director of UVA's Sorenson Institute–"everything from fundraising to the way he's regarded by everyone in the state, Democrat and Republican."

Indeed, it was a bipartisan morning, as UVA president John Casteen, who served under Democrat Chuck Robb as the state's education secretary, placed Baliles among Virginia's top three modern-day governors with the "most profound impact," along with Mills Godwin and John Dalton.

Casteen also noted that Baliles becomes the second governor to take a leadership role at the University. (The first was Colgate Darden, who was president from 1947 to 1958.)

Baliles succeeds Philip Zelikow, who resigned in February after helming the 9/11 Commission to take the position of senior advisor to Condoleezza Rice.

Casteen noted that Baliles' governorship was known for trade missions and transportation improvements, and that in his post-gubernatorial years he helped pave the way for the "charter" legislation that may soon emancipate the University from pesky state regulations.

"I'm bullish on what will happen as a result of his coming," said Casteen.

Baliles might want to get bullish on the stock market, as he told a reporter that he plans to move to Charlottesville from Richmond, where houses are less expensive per square foot.

UVA officials say Baliles will retire from the Richmond-based law firm of Hunton & Williams at the end of March and join the University on April 1.

Baliles, hoping to bridge the worlds of academia and public policy, calls the Miller Center a place of "ambitious initiatives and patient scholarship."

He'll soon be working with the likes of Timothy Naftali, who attended the press conference. Ostensibly the head of the Miller Center's acclaimed presidential recordings project, Naftali is also a terrorism expert whose essays are well-written enough to appear on Salon, a pre-eminent online magazine. He's working on a book about the Cold War as seen through Nikita Khrushchev's eyes.

"My favorite governor was Linwood Holton," says Naftali, "until I met Governor Baliles."

The late '80s governor is back in style.