Home Virginia Politics Is There Really a “Virginia Way?” If So, What on Earth Is...

Is There Really a “Virginia Way?” If So, What on Earth Is It?


You’ve probably noticed the phrase “the Virginia Way” bandied about by Virginia politicians of every ideological stripe. Just the other day, for instance, Terry McAuliffe defined it in his inaugural speech as Virginia being “the national model for fiscal discipline because our leaders- leaders like Governor Doug Wilder, decided long ago to put the common good ahead of short-term politics” (questions: is that really true? and if so, is Virginia really the only state where that happens?). McAuliffe also spoke of the “Virginia Way” being about building consensus (again: is this really the case? is consensus not built in any other state?). Whatever this vague, nebulous, too-general-to-have-any-meaning-whatsoever “Virginia Way” is, Governor McAuliffe asserted that it’s “a tradition that we should be proud of.”

Let’s just say, color me highly skeptical about any of that. And color DJ Rippert of Bacon’s Rebellion, who left this comment in a diary at Bearing Drift…well, just read it and see for yourself. I’m posting it here with his permission, as I personally lean much more towards DJ Rippert’s view than towards the “tradition that we should be proud of” view. Enjoy! 🙂

The Virginia Way? I’ve lived here since I was born in the 1950s and I still have no Earthly idea what that is supposed to mean.

” …govern effectively for all Virginians”


How far back do you want to go?

Over farming tobacco until the soil was ruined?

Becoming the capital of an immoral and unwinnable war?

The Jim Crow constitution of 1905?

The Byrd Machine?

Massive Resistance?

A gas tax frozen longer than any other state besides Alaska with the predictable transportation chaos?

The fifth most gerrymandered state in the union?

One of two states where sitting legislators who are also practicing lawyers elect the judges who will decide their cases?

No FOIA for the SCC?

The hardest state to get on the ballot?

The least competitive state legislative elections in America?

A failing rating for ethics?

Off year elections and 37% voter turnout for state races?

No term limits for legislators?

No campaign contribution limits?

No voter recall?

No citizen initiated referenda?

Uncounted company-specific and industry-specific tax breaks in the billions per year?

No ROI for transportation projects, regardless of size?

Flagship university (UVA) slipping from #15 to #25 in rankings over past 25 years?

Endless recent scandals (Tobacco Indemnification Fund, Phil Hamilton, Star Scientific, etc, etc)?

Yeah, let’s preserve “the Virginia Way” at all costs!

  • Dan Sullivan

    is another way of expressing it. It is the quaint and genteel practice of never calling anyone out so that you may enjoy the security of never being called yourself.  

  • DJRippert

    There’s a lot of propaganda coming out of Virginia’s political class.

    1. The Virginia Way

    2. Best state for business

    3. Virginia is for lovers

    Kind of funny.  Kind of.  The Virginia Way revolves around a ridiculously over-powered and unaccountable state legislature.

    The best state for business posted 36th, 42nd and 42nd place for Gross State Product (GSP) growth over the last three years.  The best state for business was also just ranked 25 out of 50 for fiscal condition (http://mercatus.org/sites/default/files/Arnett_StateFiscalCondition_v1.pdf).

    Virginia is for lovers.  As long as the lovers are married heterosexuals who do not engage in any of the practices forbidden by Virginia’s infamous (and unconstitutional) Crimes against nature statute!

    I love Virginia and being a Virginian but we do desperately need a dose of reality in the Commonwealth.  

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    Here are some “principles” for understanding the Virginia way:

    Accept that the elite running whatever should be running whatever.

    Accept that your betters decree what is godly. You don’t question their judgment.

    Accept that Virginia doesn’t need ethics rules because our elites never do bad things. That’s the Chicago Way” or the “New  Jersey way.” Bob McDonnell- Jonnie Williams was a one-time event.

    Accept that Virginia is Number One for business because it allows business to do pretty much whatever it wants to.

    Accept that the longer politicians stay if office, the better they become at representing you.

    Accept that things just don’t change in Virginia because the “Virginia Way” is always the best way.

  • Fairfax Voter

    If Governor McAuliffe wants to use “the Virginia Way” as an aspirational phrase that means working collegially and favoring dealmaking over gridlock (which is clearly how he’s using it), more power to him. Let’s give him some rhetorical running room here.  

  • Jim B

    Just think how far down the rung on the ladder we would be if the US Capital was moved like some knucklehead repug suggested the other day. We pretty much owe our good fortune to having the federal govt next door. All those big companies in northern Va are there to collect those federal dollars.  

  • kindler

    Next you’re gonna tell me that Santa Claus doesn’t exist!

  • K in VA

    Every state has some variant of this silly nonsense. Mostly, it’s benign, I think. But it does matter with those people (politicians or otherwise) who really and truly believe there’s something about their state that makes it better than the other 49. Whatever that “something” is about Virginia, it ain’t so.

  • epb22

    The state (or I should say Commonwealth, I guess) does have a long history of “consensus” or “genteel” government.  But the base of that consensus and gentility has, up until the Voting Rights Act and reapportionment, generally been exclusion. You had smooth functioning because nearly everyone in/effecting government was of the same class or, in the case of the Byrd Machine days, accepted the same shared principles. Now, obviously, we don’t have that kind of exclusion at this time. The phrase largely survives as a kind of relic of those eras.  However, it does reflect (and speak to) the impulse of those in power to remove controversy from politics. After all, a “bland” version of politics benefits the status quo in a democracy.  It depresses participation by downplaying the urgency and importance of political decisions. (

    I completely understand why Democrats, like McAullife and Warner, use it. It speaks to business interests that appreciate a soft spoken political environment. And those interests are useful in winning elections. It doesn’t do much to promote a progressive brand of politics though.