Mills E. Godwin Jr.

From Academic Kids

Mills Edwin Godwin, Jr. (November 19, 1914January 30, 1999) was an American politician who was Governor of Virginia for two terms, from 1966 to 1970 and from 1974 until 1978.

Godwin was born in Nansemond County (now-Suffolk, Virginia) and he attended the College of William and Mary. Godwin spent his first term as governor as a member of the Democratic Party, but by 1974, he had switched to the Republican Party, as the dominance of the Democrats in Virginia politics had come to an end.

He had also served in the Virginia state senate between 1952 and 1962 and was the lieutenant governor between 1962 and 1966. In the state senate, Godwin was one of the leaders of the segregationist policy of "massive resistance," which aimed at preventing implementation of federal court decisions requiring that black students by admitted to white schools.

With an eye to the 1965 gubernatorial race, however, he reached out to African American voters during the 1964 presidential campaign by campaigning for President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had led the movement for enactment of the Civil Rights Act of that year.

When he ran for governor in 1965, he had no opposition from within the Democratic party and was therefore nominated without a primary election. His support of President Johnson the previous year, however, lost him the support of the most die-hard segregationists, who bolted from the Democratic party to support William J. Story, Jr., the candidate of the short-lived Virginia Conservative Party. Godwin's bid for governor in 1965 was endorsed by the local affiliates of both the NAACP and the AFL-CIO.

Despite the third party challenge, Godwin defeated A. Linwood Holton Jr. by a 48%-36% margin, with Story winning 13% of the vote. (American Nazi Party leader George Lincoln Rockwell, running as an independent, won 3% of the vote.)

As Governor, Godwin abandoned the state's "pay as you go" fiscal policy, which Virginia had followed since Harry F. Byrd's governorship, by having the state issue bonds to pay for capital projects.

After his first term ended in 1970, Godwin began to separate himself from the Democratic party. He managed the Senate campaign of Harry F. Byrd, Jr. who was running as an Independent candidate. Godwin was denied a seat at the Democratic state convention in 1972, and he subsequently led the Virginia organization of "Democrats for Nixon," supporting Republican Richard Nixon over the Democratic presidential nominee, George McGovern.

Although Lt. Gov. Henry E. Howell, Jr., had been elected to his office as an independent, against Democratic and Republican opposition, Howell appeared to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor in the 1973 election. Howell was a self-styled "populist," but many conservatives of both parties saw him simply as a liberal, whose push to the governor's office they believed must be stopped. Former Governor Godwin was persuaded to run for governor by conservative Republicans who saw Godwin as the most likely candidate to beat Howell. Although Godwin sought and won the Republican party's nomination, he did not declare that he had personally switched his party affiliation until his speech to the Republican convention in which he accepted his nomination "as one of you." In the November 1973 election, Godwin defeated Howell to win his second term. Godwin became the only Virginia governor to be elected to two terms in the 20th century. His second term lacked the accomplishments of his first term, as Godwin ordered spending cuts due to the poor economy.

In 1976, Governor Godwin supported the bid of President Gerald R. Ford, Jr., for the Republican presidential nomination, against challenger Ronald Reagan. The Virginia Republican party convention of that year, however, elected a largely pro-Reagan delegation to the 1976 Republican National Convention, although as a courtesy Godwin was designated as co-chairman of the delegation (but was required to share the co-chairmanship with Reagan supporter Richard D. Obenshain).

After the end of his second term, Godwin worked behind the scenes in the Virginia Republican Party.

Mills Godwin High School, in suburban Richmond, Virginia, is named for him.


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