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Should Mark Warner Run for Governor?


( – promoted by lowkell)

There is increasing chatter among the chattering class about the possibility of Senator Mark Warner running for governor in 2013. This type of thing doesn’t help Terry McAuliffe or the party right now, but given the wipeouts of 2009, 2010, the loss of the Senate in 2011, and worries over the President’s re-election chances, such speculation is understandable. The recent PPP poll showed Terry running even with Bolling Alone and the Ken Doll, but MarkNotJohn is the big dog of VA politics. He would likely win easily, if not by a record margin in the two party era. In the past, such landslides have elected one or both ticketmates as well. This could give Democrats control of the State Senate, although the GOP would maintain a comfortable House of Delegates majority. There hasn’t been a Democrat elected AG for over a generation.

Now, of course it is more fun to be Governor than Senator — and you get more perks. But you can’t change the country from Virginia; you can from Washington. Indeed, from the Governor’s Mansion, you might not even be able to change Virginia all that much under the best of circumstances, which is what Warner said in advocating a Constitutional change to allow a Governor to run for re-election.

There is no chance the House GOP is going to allow the Constitution to be changed to let Governor Warner run again in 2017. So in practical terms, Mark would be giving a safe gig in DC, for the same four-year straight jacket he was in a few years ago.

Then there is the macro fiscal picture. As I wrote several years ago in the Washington Post, the state’s twin deficits, operational and structural, can’t be fixed by merely raising taxes. The last time Mark Warner proposed to raise income taxes, he did so on the highest earners, in exchange for doing away with the estate tax and asking the middle class to pay more with an increased sales tax.

Today, the estate tax is now gone, there is no higher income tax, and the sales tax has been increased. You can’t fix these twin deficits by merely cutting spending. What would a new Warner governorship propose? Logic suggests he would want both a tax increase to fund transportation, and another to deal with the twin deficits. Two new big taxes getting through the GA? Not likely.

But you say: A popular Governor Warner could campaign around the state to elect a pro-tax, fiscally responsible GA. Get a grip dude; ain’t gonna happen. Warner would probably have to settle for one or the other, which is not as big a win as the last time.

Warner I,  even with his popularity, incredible energy and the help of a Republican Senate, had to settle for a 1/2-cent sales tax increase, with a good chunk of that money actually going in the end to fix the hole in the budget caused by eliminating estate taxes.

This isn’t Harry Byrd’s Virginia where one guy gets to call the tune.

Moreover, Warner is on record saying he would have focused on transportation more in a second term. So his big play for more revenue is going to be in that area. It will take all his skills to get that done.

Warner I took a knife to the budget, Tim Kaine cut much more, and so has McDonnell, along with other gimmicks which have to be paid for at some point.

The fact is, second acts are the toughest in politics, especially if the first one is deemed a big success.  Warner I set a high bar for Warner II. The next Governor is inheriting a tough hand.

In running for Governor, Warner would have to explain why he wanted to leave Washington before finishing even one term. We can presume the answer would not help his chances for President. Moreover, Warner almost surely would have to pledge to serve his full term and not run for national office in 2016. Which means that Warner almost certainly can’t get sworn in as Governor in 2014 and be out on the presidential trail in 2015.

In effect, Warner would take himself out of the presidential running until 2020 at the earliest. A lot can happen in nine years. At that point, in political terms, I don’t see how he is better off than he was in 2008. Indeed, he would now have to explain why he didn’t like Washington, left, and now wants to come back. Moreover, Warner I will matter less than Warner II. I see greater risk than reward, usually a bad political play.

Net, net:  If Warner plays his cards right in the Senate, he will be a very viable VEEP candidate in 2016 at the minimum, given the growing importance of Virginia as a key swing state (and its not-so-shabby 13 electoral votes). By 2020, Warner can win a third term and be a senior guy in the Senate, as a lot of those around today will be gone by then.

Most importantly for Warner: In terms of Virginia, the big issue facing us and the country is the state of education system. Today, we are 18th internationally according to a study cited by Bill Clinton (who agrees that education is the key, as we have to raise the job skills of our people). Our high schools are not keeping up, in part because, as a recent study points out, the facilities are too old to support a true 21st-century education. Yes, VA is highly rated, but those of us who know true facts realize the ranking is not quite what it seems. Those who out-educate us now will out-compete us tomorrow as we Dems said in 2008.

As a practical matter, I believe Warner could do more to help Virginia – and the country – on this fundamental issue, better in the U.S. Senate than as a one-term Governor. He will have a great ally in Tim Kaine, a very pro-education guy.

The fight for America’s future, which centers on education, has to be led from the Washington side of the Potomac. It is going to take a pro-business, pro-education, pro-private-capital investment mindset to get America moving again; we can’t borrow our way of the hole. On paper, Warner is in the sweet spot as I see it.

Bottom line: To be blunt, Mark wastes his talents coming back to Richmond, in addition to missing a unique opportunity. It would be a “been there, done that” kind of thing. Yes, Virginia Democrats need his help to win in 2013, that goes without saying. We will need Senator Kaine too.  Virginia Democrats are in a funk now, but that will begin to lift as 2012 gets going and people see we ain’t dead yet.

Mark may fool me, and it will not be the first time. But if there is an equation which says he and the state would be better off with him in Richmond for one more term, as opposed to his rising to a be a major player in the Senate teamed up with the Timster, I haven’t seen it, read it or heard about. Nor has anyone else.


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