Former Virginia Governor Gerald Baliles will talk at the invitation of The Lodge at Old Trail as part of their monthly speakers series Feb. 16 at the Old Trail Golf Clubhouse from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Baliles, a Democrat, was Virginia’s 65th governor, serving from 1986 to 1990. He emphasized road building and world markets for Virginia products and has since served with dignity in many public roles, such as Chesapeake Bay clean-up. Since 2006 he has been the Director of the Miller Center at U.Va.
He said he will bring samples from the center’s archive of recorded presidential conversations to play for the audience.
Baliles is fond of Crozet for family reasons. His daughter and son-in-law and their two girls live here. Last year Baliles visited one of his granddaughter’s class at Brownsville Elementary. He can tell you who Claudius Crozet was, picking up that knowledge up in grade school in Patrick County. He can describe our town accurately as it was during the years he was at U.Va. Law School, when Crozet was a farmers’ village with two factories nearby sitting along the tracks.
Baliles said the Miller Center is a non-partisan institution that studies the presidency as well as political history and policy issues. “We’re trying to inform decision-making,” he explained. “We try to extract lessons from history that could have an impact in policymaking.” These days the center has a six-part debate series on national issues airing on ABC News on Sunday mornings, with George Stephanopoulos as host. The center collects oral histories of the American presidencies, too, (they are wrapping up on Clinton) and has issued white papers on a variety of topics in governance. It has opened an office in Washington, D.C. Baliles said the center stresses civility in politics and that it aims to elevate that trait.
“When you listen to Kennedy talk to Eisenhower about the Cuban Missile Crisis it is chilling to the bone,” Baliles said. “Or LBJ after Kennedy’s death or Nixon talking about protestors. I’ll show people [at the talk] how the presidents talked about the issues of their day.”
“A few years ago when our future in Iraq and Afghanistan was unknown, we listened to JFK asking, ‘If we go in, how do we get out?’ And you can hear Nixon talk about the same thing.
“We can’t address every problem,” he said of the Miller Center’s ambitions, “so we look most at problems related to governance, education and transportation because those are the building blocks of the economy. You have to move products to compete.”
Baliles said the questions that occupy him now are those such as: What is the role of government in education? How do you govern a problem like climate change that is inherently international in scope? If the Western economy goes over the cliff, can the international financial structure cope?
The center is preparing a report on transportation issues, and how to finance the next 40 years of infrastructure work. The Dutch and Portland, Oregon, have instituted a tax based on vehicle miles, Baliles noted. Computer chips in our cars would report our mileage to tax authorities. “One cent per mile would replace all the federal expense for transportation. Two cents per mile gives us plenty of money,” he said.
“If I were to put it into an epigram, my take-away from what I’ve learned so far is that nothing is ever as simple as it seems. This country is enormous. This continent is vast. It’s difficult to reach consensus. That puts a premium on identifying options and trying to reach agreement. That means compromise. We tend to look at our problems through ideology. When you put down your bottom line first, the discussions are about demands, not discussion. The focus should be on getting a consensus and then on how you should package it.
“The era of instant communications means that there is little time for reflection. That creates an impatience for immediate answers,” he said, pointing to it as a fact.
But, as we ought to remember, nothing is ever as simple as it looks.