Baliles makes the job of being an ex-governor look
easy. When's he's not running Hunton & Williams'
international legal practice, he's reshaping the airline
industry or transforming education in Patrick
governors just come and go.
Some stumble. Some
have impact. Some
leave legacies. Some
just leave. And
then there are the rare ones, those who stride with
such assurance, such ease and grace, that they make
all of it — the impact, the legacy, all of it —
being governor looks easier than being ex-governor.
It seems that stride, that pitch, that groove
is hard to find again, even if you had it.
L. Baliles always had it and has never lost it.
followed, really, an unremarkable route to the
of Delegates (1976-1982);
Attorney General for one term (1982-1985) and
then the Big House (1986-1990).
And then he glided onto the ice of
the world as head of the international practice
group at Hunton and Williams.
His counsel is sought by folks in high
public utterances — most recently his proposal to
downsize the House of Delegates -- still stir up the
editorial writers from one end of the state to the
other, and in this particular case, former state
Republican Party Chairman Patrick McSweeney.
(See McSweeney’s column, "Baliles
Gets it Wrong Again," October 20, 2003)
sits on high-profile boards.
He collects chairmanships like a Boy Scout on
a merit badge binge: U.S.
National Airline Commission; PBS; the Virginia
Historical Society; Southern Regional Education
Board Commission for Educational Quality; the
Commission of the Academic Presidency,
the Coalition for a Global Standard on
Aviation Noise, and others.
he associates himself with a general theme of
education, economic development, the environment, or
some combination thereof.
He has always seen the linkage.
Baliles to a gathering of the faculty senate of
Virginia at a Hotel Roanoke address in 1997:
“There is virtually no question about the
link between the quality of our lives and the
quality of our educations.
Show me a thriving economy and I will show
you a smart workforce.”
governors come and go with some regularity. There have
been a lot of them. The exact number depends on how you count,
the dividing line usually deemed that little dust-up
ex-governors, jettisoned out of the third floor of
the Capitol in Richmond
by a constitutional restriction on repeat,
back-to-back terms, usually land pretty comfortably.
Some go on to national office, usually the
U.S. Senate. Some
have difficulty finding a real post-governorship gig
and more or less hang around like the equivalent of
some executive ‘Ghost Fleet’ on the James.
And, yes, some of them, too, remain toxic for
Baliles remains engaged. More than you probably know, way more, but
usually in that zone below the public radar screen. Flash has never been his way.
political scientist (the guy with the Clark Gable
mustache) referred to
him in print once as ‘shrewd
is deliberate, intense, cerebral, methodical, as
comfortable addressing a chamber of commerce as he
is the Council on Foreign Affairs.
And every time, always, he takes the long
his high-rise office on the James River
he has an exquisitely calibrated web of contacts
that reach from one end of the state to the other
and from which he picks up even the smallest
vibrations of Virginia
politics and policy.
something hits his net in western
Baliles knows how it will feel, what it will look
like, and how it will play in Tidewater before it
the reverse is true. Baliles
knows how to — and often does — ‘message’
public policy from his James River perch. But his
fingerprints, unless he wants them otherwise, are
nearly always invisible.
Wolfe said, "You can’t go home again."
Baliles would take issue with that. He was born and raised in rural
He has deep, deep roots here and moves with
ease and comfort among them. Despite the black Cadillac with the "5"
license plate, the homefolks call him
years ago he started a thing called the Patrick
County Education Foundation.
It was a little more than the typical "give
something back" deal.
he in a recent speech here: “We have seen the
world around us change.
Technology has telescoped time and distance.
Economies of nations have become intertwined
and interdependent. Jobs,
lives and futures have been rearranged.
our part of the world, in this county, we have gone
from a time when most people made their living from
timber, textiles or tobacco.
Education was nice but not as necessary for
those jobs as it has become today.
have changed, and companies today are increasingly
dependent upon an educated work force as never
what do you do with a county near the bottom of all
counties in Virginia
in terms of the number of adults with at least a
high school education?
you’re Jerry Baliles you make a 10-year
commitment, a vow, to move Patrick
in the top five rural counties in all of Virginia. And you get to
started small. No
this was Jerry Baliles and folks signed on because
have to understand his basic premise:
To move people back to school in numbers
required to move a county from near the bottom to
near the top in the state, you pay them. The
collective benefits of that many educated people
will more than pay you back. So that’s what he
did. He set up
a foundation to pay adults $1,000 if they would go
back to school and get a GED.
Where does he get the money?
He raises it.
he made another commitment, another vow:
to move Patrick County into the top five
rural counties in terms of the percentage of kids
who graduate from high school and go on to college.
Here’s the deal on that one: Keep your nose
clean, make the grades, get in (and the foundation
will help you on that one) and lack of money won’t
stop you. Where
does he get the money?
You guessed it.
He raises it.
then there’s a thing called ‘TekAdvantage,’
the foundation’s first workforce initiative.
Same set-up. He
raises the money.
how are they doing after two years? What’s the score?
Everybody’s winning. The classes are filling up. Patrick
kids are getting accepted to schools
have dreamed of before.
Schools are offering up scholarships.
Folks are getting their GEDs and feeling good
gave the commencement address at Ferrum
this year. Said
Ferrum President, Dr. Jennifer Braaten, in
life of service is consistent with Ferrum’s motto
Self, But Others’, because he is focused, down to
earth, and willing to continually give of himself. His leadership in
is unequalled and he continues to remember his roots
in Southwest Virginia
in many positive ways.”
hereabouts would nod to that.
She got it right.
October 20, 2003