Don Beyer is back in town. Completing a four-year stint as the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, the familiar face has been back at the Don Beyer car dealership’s flagship store in Falls Church, refocused on growing the family business with his brother, Mike, a Falls Church City resident.
Beyer sat down with the News-Press for an exclusive interview about where he’s been and where he’s going now earlier this month.
For most of the decade of the 1990s, Falls Church proudly celebrated Donald S. Beyer, Jr. as its “Favorite Son.” Beyer had upset everyone’s expectations by working the vast state of Virginia from corner to corner in 1989 as a political novice to get elected the state’s lieutenant governor.
His family car dealership, begun by his father, was already a fixture in Falls Church, though it has grown since then to nine dealerships throughout the region, and Don Jr. was a regional and local civic activist, having been elected president of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce in 1980 and becoming a recipient of the Chamber’s prestigious “Pillar of the Community” award. As lieutenant governor in 1989, he was re-elected to a second four year term in 1993, and then was next in line among Democrats to run for governor as the Democratic nominee in 1997. That proved a star-crossed undertaking when his GOP rival James Gilmore jumped on a shallow “no car tax” slogan and pulled out a victory.
But Beyer never slowed down the pace of his political activism. He became the finance chair for the Democrats’ next gubernatorial challenger, Mark Warner, who won in 2001, having gained invaluable experience on how to run a successful statewide campaign from Beyer’s three earlier campaigns.
Warner was a novice as Beyer had first been when he ran in 1989, and since then Warner has not only served as governor, but is now Virginia senior U.S. senator.
Beyer, in 2003, became the national treasurer for the electrifying early Democratic presidential bid of Howard Dean, who had shot to the head of the field in the summer of 2003.
Beyer brought the Dean campaign right into Falls Church with a rally that drew thousands into the Cherry Hill park, the biggest public gathering in the City in memory. Beyer followed that by opening the official Dean for President Virginia headquarters on Park Avenue in Falls Church, and among other things, scores of student activists from George Mason High School in Falls Church poured into the office to volunteer.
When Dean withdrew, Beyer became chair of the Kerry presidential campaign in Virginia. After Kerry’s loss, in 2007 Beyer was one of the first high-profile Democrats to endorse and campaign extensively for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.
He was the chair of the Mid-Atlantic Finance Council for Obama and was on the campaign’s National Finance Council during the grueling Democratic primaries and in the run for the general election.
After Obama’s 2008 victory, Beyer was asked to head up Obama’s transition team at the Commerce Department, and in June 2009, Beyer was appointed by Obama the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, a position he held until this May.
With nine locations around Northern Virginia now, Beyer with brother Mike have their hands full managing and growing the family business. Don, who lives in Alexandria with wife, Megan, spends most of his time at the company’s Alexandria location. But Falls Church remains their flagship location, and that brings him here once a week or so.
At age 63, he doesn’t rule out getting back into the political fray, but says his friends are now holding all the political offices he might consider running for.
He and Megan hosted an event for Democratic Delegate candidate Jennifer Boysko this summer, and this fall, he was the master of ceremonies at a major Alexandria fundraiser for the Democratic state ticket of McAuliffe for governor, Herring for attorney general and Northam for lieutenant governor.
In his interview with the News-Press, Beyer talked about lessons learned from Switzerland’s system of government, which is based on a “konkordantz,” or shared power approach, rather than a strong central government. The country is run by a seven-person elected federal council, and the role of president rotates every year.
Since 1291, the year of the William Tell legend, he said, serfdom was banished such that there are no castles and no titles there.
He praised the country’s ability to address climate change issues, including the fact that it has the highest percentage of train-riders in the world. “There are no wild swings” in the operation of government, he said. “Things move slowly forward.”
The Beyers hosted about 5,000-6,500 people at receptions in their ambassadorial quarters when they were there, including hosting 468 overnight guests.
Having adopted women’s suffrage only in 1972, Switzerland was open to Megan Beyer’s annual Women’s Bilateral Forum.