RICHMOND, Va. — Former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, a Democrat known as the “transportation governor” and for his work to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and increase foreign trade, died Tuesday. He was 79.
Gov. Ralph Northam issued a statement saying Baliles died Tuesday morning, surrounded by his family. He had been battling cancer.
“Governor Baliles fought for rural Virginians, promoted civil discourse, and was the epitome of a true public servant,” Northam said, adding that the state flags will fly at half-staff for the next 30 days in Baliles’ honor.
“It’s easy to say that democracy works better when practiced with civility, honest debate, and good-faith compromise. Jerry Baliles lived it,” Clinton and his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, said in a statement Tuesday.
Baliles, who served from 1986 to 1990, pushed through a 10-year, $10 billion transportation initiative during the first year of his administration that required increases in the gas and sales taxes.
“He had the courage to take the political hit for raising taxes for improvements that future governors would cut the ribbons on,” Del. Vivian E. Watts, D-Arlington said during a 2002 retrospective examining Baliles’ administration. Watts was secretary of public safety and transportation under Baliles.
Baliles continued pushing for better transportation long after he left the Executive Mansion, calling for Virginia to install tolls on interstates to raise money for transportation projects.
He once accused his successors of squandering the progress made during his administration.
“The 1990s could well go down as Virginia’s Decade of Delusion,” he told the nonprofit Intelligent Society of Virginia. “We have convinced ourselves that somehow, someway, our commonwealth will take care of itself and that we can avoid the consequences of economic expansion.”
Baliles also committed Virginia to an ambitious cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay while in office and later continued his conservation efforts. His book “Preserving the Chesapeake Bay” was a call to arms to keep the bay cleanup going
At 15, Baliles went to Fishburne Military Academy, where he graduated second in his class. He met his first wife, Jeannie McPherson, while at Wesleyan College in Connecticut. They had two children, Laura and Jonathan.
They divorced in 1996 and Baliles married Robin Deal in 2003.