Home Virginia Politics Two-Term Governor=Anti-Dem Missile

Two-Term Governor=Anti-Dem Missile

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( – promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

Unless those Democrats advocating the two-term governor “good government” reform are either secret agents for Mark Warner or the GOP, it defies practical sense, process- or substance-wise in the REAL WORLD of Virginia politics. Advocates for this reform raise the usual claim that the state is the only one left with the one-term limitation. They also argue that, if only a Governor could succeed him or herself, our transportation and other problems would be readily solved, because only then could we do the required “long term” planning for transportation.

Time for a reality check.

First of all, let’s understand this: But for the one-term limitation, the only African American ever elected Governor – Doug Wilder – and the only woman to win statewide office – Mary Sue Terry – would never have been able to break both the color line and glass ceiling in 1985. Governor Robb would have run for re-election, as would have LG Dick Davis and AG Jerry Baliles. All three would have won easily.

The one-term limitation actually is the only reason we have real competition in Virginia politics today on a regular basis at the statewide level. Indeed, those elected Democrats calling for this constitutional change likewise are among the loudest complaining about the lack of real competition in General Assembly races. Let a Governor run for re-election, and see what remains of competition in Virginia then.

By the way: the “progressive” proposal in national politics was to restrict the President to one, six-year term, in order to remove politics from the decision making. Woodrow Wilson campaigned on it, but once he got in, he had a change of heart: he actually wanted a third term despite being crippled by a stroke! Bill Clinton has come out for ending the two-term presidential limitation. Which raises the question: Why restrict a Governor from doing the Rick Perry thing, keeping winning until even your supporters can’t justify it anymore?

What makes a two-term rule the magic number?

One has to be practical in politics while still being principled.

 

By preventing the Governor from seeking re-election, it has served to open the lower ballot offices every four years in Virginia to give new people a chance. But if you let a Governor seek re-election, there is a good chance those holding the LG and AG spots will also run for another term. Look around the country; it is very difficult for any challenger to mount a serious contest against an incumbent for such offices. In the modern history of Virginia, four incumbent statewide officials have sought re-election: three won in huge landslides, the other by a good margin even while his party’s gubernatorial nominee was crushed in a landslide.

By the way, how many women and African-Americans have been elected since 1985? Politics is timing in many ways. The situation in 1985 was unique, in part due to Robb, incredibly popular, not being able to run again and Baliles, like Cuccinelli, not wanting to “wait his turn.”

Let’s think about 2013. Do you think Democrats could even find someone willing to challenge Bob McDonnell for re-election? Moreover, McDonnell’s victory would all but guarantee another GOP sweep in 2013. By 2017, the Democrats might not even be the state’s second-most viable party at the state level.

But you say: If Mark Warner had been able to seek re-election, the Democratic ticket would have swept. That’s true. Except politics is not an intellectual exercise. You deal with boots on the ground.

In order to amend the Constitution, the proposed provision must pass the General Assembly sometime in the next two years, then be enacted again by the General Assembly which takes office after the 2013 election. If a Democrat wins the statehouse, as I believe should be the case if people would focus on serious issues, do you really think the Republican-controlled House of Delegates is going to allow that Governor to succeed himself?

But you say: They can pass an amendment which doesn’t apply to the sitting Governor. That is an open question legally, since it amounts to singling out one person for a denial of a constitutional right given to every other Virginian. It is instructive that the two-term limitation in the federal constitution specifically didn’t apply to sitting President Harry Truman. While one is a limitation on an existing right, and the other a granting of a new right, I would assume a real progressive would be against discrimination against anyone’s rights. Moreover, given the way the Virginia Supreme Court interprets the state constitution, I am not sure they would uphold a constitutional provision that didn’t allow the current Governor to run for re-election.

Is it possible for the Court to uphold part of a Constitutional Amendment but not other parts? I am no expert in that regard. But I know this: There is no way Republicans are going to take any risk of enabling Governor Terry McAuliffe (for example) or any sitting Democratic Governor to succeed himself. It’s simply not going to happen.

Now, assume the GOP scores another sweep in 2013. Then the “bipartisan” effort by good little Democrats to save the state from the yoke of the “one term limit” makes it easy for the GOP to enact their proposal as a good government measure. So if they want, they can be bipartisan this year,

pass a proposed constitutional revision, and wait to see the outcome of the 2013 election.

Bottom line: In that event, the only thing that might likely save the DPVA from an historic

2017 wipe out would be the good people of Virginia voting down the proposed Amendment in the required statewide referendum. But it would be in an off-year vote, more favorable to the GOP.

Net, net: This “good” government reform could lead to the greatest DPVA wipeout in history in 2017. Admittedly, the current “leadership” of DPVA would hardly notice.

Earth to “reformers”: Pushing for the elimination of the one-term rule makes absolutely no sense from the standpoint of practical politics. It isn’t just the “process” side either.

Take the alleged “substance” of the two-term reform: It will magically achieve this lack of “long-term” planning on transportation or other issues the “reformers” say doesn’t now exist.

Let’s just take transportation, since the “reformers’ mentioned that specifically, the phrase “long-term” no doubt a code for tax increase. In 2002, Mark Warner, a rookie first-year Governor, put on the ballot a transportation tax in NOVA and Tidewater. The people voted down the tax, not the process. The Warner Administration, like every other, enacted a six-year transportation plan, and there are long-term transportation plans into 2050 or thereabouts. We’ve got plenty of plans. One-term Governor Tim Kaine passed a transportation plan, but the Supreme Court shot down several parts of it, key ones included (e.g., regional taxation authorities). But Tim did it, as promised, with bipartisan support. The one-term thing didn’t stop him.  

Creigh Deeds ran for Governor in 2009, promising to raise taxes to fund transportation. He didn’t need another term to do what he thought was necessary. Indeed, that’s why he won the primary. But the voters didn’t agree, it had nothing to do with the one-term provision.  

Fact: Warner, Kaine, even Deeds put it right out for Virginians; they weren’t hobbled by the process. One can agree or disagree with their transportation ideas, but that’s a separate issue. The people of  Virginia have repeatedly rejected any new transportation taxes to be levied on a general population basis in the last decade.

The “reformers” clearly don’t like this outcome. I understand their reasons. History may prove them to be right and the majority of Virginians wrong. But it has nothing to do with the Constitutional provision they want to change.

No one in Virginia has ever been elected Governor on a platform which includes a broadly applied, new transportation tax. I presume the “reformers” believe that an incumbent Governor would be more likely to campaign a second time on something he or she rejected the first time, or promise not to raise such taxes only to renege upon being sworn in again.

This is simply fantasy politics.

Moreover, Tim Kaine is campaigning for the Senate, as did Mark Warner, on Virginia being rated so highly in many various areas, and their ability to balance the budgets in tough times. What they say is true, and they did it as one-term Governors.

Finally, look around: Where have the different rules for gubernatorial re-election running made any of the other 49 states better at transportation planning, or whatever suits the “reformers,” on a systematic basis than Virginia?

Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, California, Ohio, Florida. Iran?

The truth is the one=term limitation allowed us to achieve what the people of Virginia voted as the most significant achievement for the state in the 20th century: taking the “No African-Americans Need apply” sign off the door to high office in the Commonwealth.

The issues facing us in education, transportation, jobs – and they are serious and hidden by statistics from the state in many regards, I am sorry to say – is not due to the fact Virginia refuses to allow a clown like Rick Perry to keep being Governor for term after term.

In an ideal world, starting from scratch, there are of course governing rules one would do differently. But that’s not the situation. The one-term rule has served Democrats well; we have elected 5 out of the last 8 Governors. In that period, Virginia has made great strides, for which they all deserved credit.

As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  

  • Tom

    What we have is a State Constitution provision that prohibits a governor from serving (or running for) consecutive terms.

    My main objection to the consecutive term prohibition is there is no way to hold a sitting governor accountable for anything he does while he in office. We don’t even have a recall petition provision in the Va. Constitution, so a sitting governor cannot be held accountable at all.

    I’m not in favor of a two-term limit either, whether they are consecutive terms or not, because we effectively do have a “term limit”, and it’s called the ballot box.

    There is a good reason that no other state’s constitution prohibits consecutive gubernatorial terms – it serves no good purpose and has plenty of negatives.

    Paul, I’m surprised that you of all BV diarists would oppose an amendment to make it possible for a sitting governor to be held accountable to the voters in the only way we can hold a governor accountable, i.e. via the ballot box.

    I repeat: Virginia does not have and never has had a “term limit”. We have an anachronistic prohibition against a governor running for/serving two consecutive terms.

    Why can’t the BV diarists and those who comment get the important distinctions between these two very different and simple concepts ?

  • jimhock

    I think it would be better for saving money to align when we are doing elections at Federal level.  Makes no sense to me why we have off year elections.

  • richmonder

    I was in the Philippines some years ago when they were rewriting their constitution after the disastrous Marcos years. The popular view on how long to make the presidential term was that 4 years (the old term) was too long for a bad president and 6 years (the new term) was too short for a good one. This stuck in my mind because the Philippines has had more bad presidents than good ones and there’s no easy way to move them along except the one term limit, plus making recall and impeachment easier. Likewise for Virginia. If reform is needed, perhaps a clear recall provision would be helpful. But as this post points out, overall, we have benefited hugely from the term limit and given a boost to two-party politics at the same time. Since there’s always a shortage of competent candidates, it’s best to keep them moving along and give them a chance to serve in other capacities (like the US Senate). Virginia may be the exception in this, but our state is better governed than 90% of the rest. I suspect this term-limit is part of the reason for that.