Five years after he was defeated for reelection in one of the two closest Senate races in the nation, George Allen of Virginia plans to regain his old job in 2012. Allen is invigorating his campaign with fresh issues and themes, a new course that includes the surprising admission that his vote for the No Child Left Behind program to enhance the federal role in public education is “the one I would take back.”
In addition, Allen is making a passionate case for unleashing federal restraints on energy production “to take control of our own destiny.”
In a wide-ranging interview with HUMAN EVENTS, Allen addressed the concerns of all three of his likely GOP primary foes, who have suggested that the party needs a fresh face and that Allen is damaged goods and can’t win as a nonincumbent if he couldn’t win as an incumbent. Rather than style his upcoming campaign as a comeback bid by a former senator, the Virginian stressed his energized new platform by explaining the vote for No Child Left Behind that he now regrets.
“When this was put forward by the Bush administration, they [said] that this is going to help states … and this will have no impact on Virginia whatsoever because we had high standards,” Allen said. “We already had measurements, school performance report cards, and all the rest. The lesson from all this though is that it doesn’t matter if it is a Republican or Democrat administration, if you let these bureaucrats in the Department of Education meddle, then they are going to meddle and micromanage.”
And as it turned out, the former senator went on, “The way the Bush administration went with that is that they were going to force Virginia, by their illogical measurements, … to dumb down the standards that we worked so hard to put into place just to comply with the federal measurements or their sort of assessments.”
“So I think the federal Department of Educations, that’s one place of saving money,” Allen added. “What I’m looking to do is have more money get into the classroom in the states controlled by the people in communities and localities as opposed to distant bureaucrats in Washington.”
Allen is keenly aware of the hurdles he must tackle if he is to become the first former U.S. senator in 24 years to return to the office after losing reelection (Republican Slade Gorton of Washington State was unseated in 1986 but rebounded in ’88 to win his state’s other Senate seat).
Turning to another timely concern, Allen left little doubt that energy policy would be a major issue on the campaign trail. In his words, “We ought to look at these resources as a blessing. These sanctimonious social engineers up here in Washington, they look at it as a curse. I was watching a guy from Brazil on ’60 Minutes’ a month or so ago with tears in his eyes talking about what offshore exploration for oil and gas would do to raise the lives of people in Brazil, and I’m thinking what a cockeyed, convoluted energy policy we have.”
Specifically, the Senate hopeful advocated a five-point agenda for a positive approach to energy policy, including “new technologies that make things better and save the taxpayers money,” finding more natural gas and HydroCoal (“If you want to look at the states that have the best electricity rates, it’s the ones with predominantly HydroCoal”), and pursuit of nuclear energy.
Allen also called for a balanced budget amendment, the line-item veto, repeal of what he dubbed “the ObamaCare monstrosity,” and greater opportunities for health savings accounts.
Throughout his session with HUMAN EVENTS, Allen also underscored the themes that have long been staples of his political career, namely, “reigning in a federal government that is overreaching and overspending” and that “we as Americans need to get back in control of our own destiny.”
With Democratic Sen. Jim Webb retiring after one term, the 57-year-old Allen (who also served as governor of the Old Dominion State from 1993 to 1997 and as a one-term U.S. representative) appears in strong shape if he wins the Republican primary next summer. Recent polls usually showed him tied with or running slightly ahead of Tim Kaine, the former governor and present Democratic National Committee chairman that Democrats from President Obama on down want to run for Webb’s seat.
Any discussion with Allen of the coming Senate race almost always turns to his defeat in ’06. Initially considered an easy winner and a strong possibility to run for President in ’08, Allen hit several bumps in the road, had an unexpectedly strong opponent in Webb, and wound up having a national Democratic tide sweeping hard against him.
Rather than dwell on why he lost, the Virginian spoke of the lessons he learned from that loss.
“I didn’t like losing.,” he said. “It was a humbling experience, but from it one learns a great deal. And being out of government, one learns how out of touch they are, how they’re ignoring the values and views of the American people. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m refreshed and resolved to make some real, significant changes in Washington, and achievable reforms, and I’m determined to get it done.”