by Paul Goldman
Yesterday, Governor McDonnell’s new official spokesperson – UVA Professor Larry Sabato, aka Cato The Elder – decried the irresponsibility of a Virginia conservative blog for claiming the Governor was likely to resign in the near future due to the controversy over alleged gifts received by him, his wife and family.
Here at 200-proof politics, we don’t consider ourselves expert enough to deem what is, and what is not, the spreading of an irresponsible rumor. First of all, who decides what is, or is not, irresponsible? Under the first amendment, we have freedom of the press. Mr. McDonnell is a public figure, and doing quite nicely, Rolex and all, thanks to his public position. If only Dr. Sabato and others were as concerned about the Governor’s irresponsible actions – a view supported by all the sensible newspaper editorial boards in the state – as they are about a blog post…
But that is too much to hope for, apparently. Therefore, let’s focus instead on the law, not the politics, of any resignation scenario. The big question: Could Governor Bolling get on the 2013 November ballot? From what I can discern from Dr. Sabato, blog posters and others, the consensus answer is this: NO. Perhaps I misread them. But whether I do or not, the answer is this: YES, Governor Bolling still has time to get on the ballot. He has three options, in order of likelihood of success.
1) The Sex Change Option.
Okay, I used the title to get your attention. Actually, it doesn’t involve a sex change, rather only a change at the top of the Libertarian Party ticket. As usual, the Libertarians had the money to get enough petition signatures to qualify their guy for the ballot as a candidate for Governor. He can’t win. But there is nothing in the law to stop the Libertarians from cutting a deal with Governor Bolling along these lines: We will replace our guy with you at the top of the ticket, provided we get something in return.
Admittedly, this is not the ideal situation with a sitting Governor. But, as they say in politics, it could be Billy Boy’s least worst option, indeed his only viable option, to become Governor. By law, the Libertarians can put Governor Bolling on their ticket. Who would win a three-way between Terry the Dem, Ken the Tea Partier, and Billy Boy the Libertarian? Sabato the Censor has forbidden me from answering. Sorry.
2) The Godfather Option
Sitting Governor Billy Boy could go to the GOP, and make them an offer they couldn’t refuse — or at least one they couldn’t refuse if they wanted to win. As I read the law, the GOP Central Committee could replace Mr. Cuccinelli on the ballot for violating certain party rules. Which ones and why? I am not sure they have to give a reason. So, the GOP high command could deal a real low blow to Mr. Cuccinelli, strip him of his nomination, and put Governor Bolling on the ballot. Mr. Cuccinelli would of course sue. It would be a big mess. Bottom line: His chances of winning would be nil even if he won court reinstatement as the GOP ticket head. As for Governor Bolling: If this turns out to be his only option, he is no worse off under any outcome then he would be off the ballot.
3) The Goldman Option
It is a legal theory that’s won a few cases. Virginia law says any independent hopeful for Governor, or minor party hopeful, has to file his or her qualifying ballot petitions on the second Tuesday after the first Monday in June. But in terms of the presidential election, any such hopeful for the White House has roughly until 75 days before the election to file said petitions to qualify for the ballot. This is roughly in the last week or so of August.
Ergo, the legal question: What is the state’s constitutional justification for the difference in filing deadlines? Variations of this rough theory have succeeded in derailing legal limitations requiring early petition filings in many states although mostly in the context of presidential elections. If the state can count the petitions of presidential candidates in time to qualify for the September printing of the ballot, then surely it can do the same thing for gubernatorial candidates. Given the new laws effective on July 1 of this year – enacted to deal with the questions raised by Morrissey and Goldman, LLC, and Tony Troy (now the Governor’s lawyer) in winning two cases against the state for two candidates denied access to the ballot – the legal theory has a better chance of succeeding. But the odds would be 50-1, if that good, in winning.
Bottom line: The Libertarian Party line is likely the only option for Governor Bolling. But it is a legal option. Moreover, the Libertarians would likely to do it, as having the Governor on their line would surely get them enough votes to be considered a major party under the law. Plus, the Governor would have to give them a good quid pro quo in return.