Virginia is the only state in the U.S. that limits governors to one term, and when Governor George Allen's term was up in 1997, the gregarious Republican couldn't imagine staying out of politics - or the limelight. Allen, the son of the famed Washington Redskins and Los Angeles Rams coach, the late George Allen, Sr., is known as an outspoken risk-taker. In a speech to the state Republican convention in 1994, Allen exhorted the crowd: "figuratively let's enjoy knocking [the Democrats'] soft teeth down their whining throats."
Allen attended UCLA on a football scholarship, then transferred to the University of Virginia where he also played football. There, the California native developed a predilection for cowboy boots, pick-up trucks, chewing tobacco, country music, and shotguns.
Allen went on to attend University of Virginia law school, where his current opponent Chuck Robb had received his law degree just a few years earlier. While still in law school, Allen was asked to be chairman of Young Virginians for Reagan in the 1976 presidential race. Though Reagan lost the nomination to Gerald Ford, he carried Virginia. Allen was elected to the state legislature in 1982 in a seat once held by Thomas Jefferson.
After a decade in the Virginia Assembly, Allen won a special election to the U.S. House, where he served for about two years. Allen ran for governor in 1994, promising to fight gun control, oppose abortion rights, and abolish parole. With the support of the religious right, he won the Republican nomination. Allen then beat Democrat Don Beyer by a 17-point margin, becoming the only gubernatorial candidate in Virginia's history to win more than one million votes.
Allen often touts his tough-on-crime reputation. When he was questioned about a vintage noose he kept in his Charlottesville office in the early 90's, a campaign aide explained it was simply an emblem of Allen's law-and-order mentality.
Beginning in 1995, under Allen's "truth in sentencing" initiative, Virginia became one of only eight states to abolish parole, and sentenced violent offenders to longer time. Under Allen, the state built new, tougher prisons with tighter security and earned a reputation as one of the most severe corrections systems in the nation. In fact, Virginia built more prisons than the state could fill, and soon began renting out prison beds to other states. Allen also instituted a five-year minimum jail term for use of an unregistered handgun - an initiative he dubbed "Project Exile."
Allen credits his reforms for the dramatic drop in crime in Virginia. Some criminologists contest this claim, pointing to evidence that violent crime was already declining in Virginia before Allen's proposals took effect. Violent crime also has declined nationally during the past decade - in states that have abolished parole and in states that have not - due to a number of factors including a good economy and the maturation of the crack cocaine market.
Gov. Allen also made important changes in Virginia's education system. He pushed through a new set of standardized tests for public school students called Standards of Learning. Students must pass tests in at least six subject areas in order to graduate high school. Schools where too few students pass could eventually lose accreditation. But critics say Allen's new standards will keep thousands of unprepared students from receiving diplomas and lower their chances to find jobs.
Allen initially did not support mandatory reductions in class sizes but later signed a bill, which effectively did so. At the university level, Allen froze tuition for state schools.
In 1995, Allen proposed cutting primary and secondary education by $52 million and higher education by $47 million in order to fund a tax break. Following a written plea from three former governors, the legislature defeated Allen's proposal. During Allen's term, teacher salaries also slipped below the national average. And Allen was the only governor in the nation to turn down $8 million in federal funds, saying they could lead to "federal interference."
Under Gov. Allen, Virginia instituted a welfare-to-work law that requires recipients to work after 90 days and cuts benefits off after two years. Under the law, benefits for teenage mothers were cut off. Allen also mandated parental notification for minors seeking to obtain abortions.
Allen has campaigned for the Senate with promises to increase federal spending to hire more teachers and help local districts build schools. He has also proposed up to $30 billion in tax credits for educational expenses.
Allen raised approximately $8.5 million in his race for the Senate as of late September. He has spent about $5.3 million - almost $3 million more than his opponent. As recently as September, Allen enjoyed a seven-point lead. Robb, however, now appears to be closing the gap.
Allen, his wife Susan, and their three young children, live in Charlottesville, Virginia.