The GOP Should Recall the Tradition of Moderate Republican Governors Like Linwood Holton

Former Gov. Linwood Holton is the model that Republicans need to win again in place like Virginia.


Present day conservative Republicans would be wise if they listened to the more moderate—even progressive—view of former Gov. Linwood Holton of Virginia. Of course, it is not about to happen, given the stances of the GOP in Congress and with most of its governors.

Holton, elected in 1969, was governor when the Old Dominion was ordered by the court to integrate its public schools. Previous governors had circled the wagons behind segregationist positions of Republicans and Democrats, including the once potent machine of Democratic Sen. Harry F. Byrd.

State lawmakers had swallowed the silly argument of "interposition"—a repackaging of the failed "states' rights" argument—which was promoted by a Richmond newspaper. Holton knew it was a loser and a stalling tactic of no merit.

In 1970, Holton sent his three young children to heavily black schools in Richmond. He accompanied his youngest son to grade school and it made the front page of the New York Times.

Only one member of President Richard Nixon's cabinet and team, then-Secretary of Labor George Schultz, contacted Holton and praised his action.

The end of moderation in the GOP South can be traced to Nixon's adopting a Southern Strategy of dividing the races. It elected Nixon in 1968 and has led to the Republicans' keeping a stranglehold on the South.

Look at Virginia now. The governor and one of the senators (and probably the second starting next year) are Democrats and the party is growing in the Washington suburbs.

In the current race for the second senate seat, former Democratic Gov. Mark Warner has a big lead in the polls and $5 million in the bank. His Republican opponent, conservative former Gov. Jim Gilmore, has $157,000 with which to challenge Warner.

Virginia is changing, but some Republicans still don't get it.