George F. Allen yesterday said he has “learned some diplomacy” since serving as Virginia’s governor from 1993 to 1998, when he wasn’t known for bipartisanship or subtlety.
“There’s an Eastern way of breaking horses and there’s a Western way of breaking horses, and this is the East, and sometimes you have to curry them and give them a cube of sugar and an apple and so forth … as opposed to breaking them fast and hard in the mud and sand,” Mr. Allen said during a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.
“At any rate, I have learned and I have grown. I still have the exact same principles common-sense Jeffersonian conservative principles. There are ways to be more diplomatic and I have grown.”
Mr. Allen is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Charles S. Robb, a Democrat, for his seat. A Rasmussen Portrait of America poll released Tuesday shows Mr. Allen with 50 percent support in Virginia an eight-point lead over Mr. Robb.
Mr. Allen frequently has said Mr. Robb cancels out the vote of Virginia’s senior U.S. senator, John W. Warner, a Republican. So Mr. Allen and Mr. Warner already are planning how they can best team together in the Senate.
Senate rules prohibit two senators from the same state and party from serving on a committee, so Mr. Allen wouldn’t take Mr. Robb’s seat on the Armed Services Committee since Mr. Warner is the committee chairman.
But Mr. Allen said he has been aiming for a seat on the Appropriations Committee, specifically a spot on the defense subcommittee. That would give Virginia a say in decisions on policy and on money. He said he would consider a seat on the Commerce Committee.
The former governor said he is ready for the role of senator, as opposed to chief executive.
“It’s not as if as a U.S. senator I shall command: ‘You shall build a bridge.’ It’s not right. You have to restrain the government,” Mr. Allen said. “Us conservatives need to understand, just because we’re in power doesn’t mean we start usurping the rights and powers of the people in the states, telling them what to do even if it’s what we think is right. We have to have that restraint.”
The 48-year-old is the son of former Redskins coach George Allen. He served in the Virginia General Assembly before winning a special election in 1991 to serve the 14-month remainder of a term in the U.S. House.
In the House, Mr. Allen didn’t shy from making statements with his votes, especially on monetary matters. He consistently voted against foreign-aid bills, saying the aid was going to countries such as Libya that supported terrorism. He also was one of a handful of lawmakers to vote against most of the overt pork-barrel projects that came to individual votes.
“I hate waste. I think it’s the worst sin of all. And I don’t think we ought to waste money. I also don’t think we ought to use taxpayer money supporting our enemies,” he said.
Mr. Allen said he would have voted differently than Mr. Robb on several issues over the past two terms. He said he would have:
Supported the Defense of Marriage Act, letting states decide not to recognize homosexual unions from other states.
Supported a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration.
Voted for the ban on partial-birth abortions and for strict parental notification requirements for abortions.
Voted for tax cuts like the Republican marriage penalty and death tax relief bills that Mr. Robb opposed. (“I’d absolutely vote against every tax increase, I know that for sure.”)
In criminal justice, Mr. Allen said he always has favored strict penalties. He criticized Mr. Robb for voting to equalize the federal penalty for selling crack cocaine and powder cocaine: “My view is you increase penalties of those selling powder cocaine. He voted to decrease penalties for crack cocaine.”
Asked if he would have voted to convict President Clinton on articles of impeachment something Mr. Robb did not do Mr. Allen said he didn’t read all the evidence or watch all the proceedings, but was amazed that the president kept his job.
“There’s not a teacher, a professor, a custodian in the school who would have kept his job having done what he did. There’s not a single person in the armed services who would have kept his job. No CEO of a company,” Mr. Allen said.
Mr. Allen said he does support hate-crime laws and signed a hate-crimes statute as governor. He said his motivation was simply getting tough on crime: “Throughout my public-service career, I’ve been working to find ways to increase the penalties on those who commit crimes violent crimes.”
He said, though, that prosecutions are the purview foremost of the states and any federal hate-crimes statutes should not usurp state laws or states’ prerogative to prosecute cases.
Mr. Allen does not support including sexual orientation in job-discrimination laws.
He has been roundly criticized for his announcement that he would vote to renew the federal ban on assault weapons when it comes for renewal in four years. He previously had called the ban “toothless” and yesterday said it was “meaningless.”
Instances like that Mr. Allen says his position always has been to enforce laws already on the books leave him open to the charge that he is pandering to more liberal Northern Virginians. Or, alternatively, he is accused of matching the more rural, conservative parts of Virginia while not being such a good fit for those in Northern Virginia.
But he dismissed that yesterday.
“No matter where you are in Virginia, the principles still apply. People, no matter where you are in Virginia, are paying taxes. No matter where you are, [they] care about crime. No matter where you are, [they] want a strong national defense,” Mr. Allen said.
“They understand the importance of education. Whether you’re in far southwest Virginia or whether you’re in Fairfax County, I think parents understand that the ticket to success for their child is education.”
To that end, Mr. Allen repeatedly referred to people and how they will benefit from his service as a senator.
He drew one other distinction between himself and Mr. Robb, who told The Washington Post, “I’m a United States senator first. I’m a Virginian second. I’m a Democrat third.”
Mr. Allen saw his role differently: “What I consider myself first is a husband and father. That’s No. 1. Then a Virginian. Then a U.S. senator.”
Derek Simmonsen and Daniel Drummond contributed to this report.