Prospects for two-term governorships look slim again in Va. House

January 29, 2013

A Senate proposal that would clear the way to allow Virginia governors to serve two consecutive terms is lacking support in the House of Delegates.

On Monday, the Senate passed a measure asking voters to decide whether Virginia governors should be allowed to succeed themselves. The constitution already allows governors to serve more than one term, but not consecutively.

Sen. Thomas A. Garrett (R-Louisa) sponsored the constitutional amendment, saying that governors might be able to better tackle long-term problems like transportation funding if they had more time in office. It passed 25 to 15.

The House version of the bill stalled in subcommittee last week. When asked about the legislation’s prospects in the chamber, several Republicans laughed and dismissed the idea.

“I don’t know if anyone in my subcommittee has changed their position,” said Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas), the House majority whip and chairman of the Constitutional Amendments Subcommittee, where the bill was tabled on Jan. 21.

“There didn’t seem to be much support for it,” Miller said.

Matthew Moran, spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), echoed Miller’s comments. “I do not think there is broad support for that measure in the House at the moment,” Moran said Tuesday.

Christopher Newport University political science professor Quentin Kidd said while there has been support over the years for the idea of a two-term governor, lawmakers have been unwilling to extend the governor’s already vast powers.

“The state is literally run on the backs of people appointed by the governor,” Kidd said. “The dilemma is how do you give the governor more power by giving him the opportunity to run for reelection and yet not create an imbalance between a part-time legislature and a governor who suddenly can be there for eight years? It’s untangling that web where everything sort of chokes up.”

Proposals have been floating around the General Assembly for more than a decade, but most have languished in committee.

Since 1851, voters in Virginia have elected governors for four-year terms with no eligibility for immediate reelection. The commonwealth remains the only state in the country with such limits.

Despite the short tenure, Virginia’s governor is one of the most powerful in the country, with far-reaching powers that include the ability to make thousands of appointments, from commission posts to university boards to agency heads.

Former governors Timothy M. Kaine (D), Mark R. Warner (D) and James S. Gilmore III (R) signaled support for changing the rule during their administrations, and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has pushed for the change since he was a candidate.

Among McDonnell’s arguments are that having two terms makes economic development easier and creates continuity in the executive branch. He has also said voters deserve the right to hire and fire their governor.

Only one governor in Virginia’s history has returned to office after his initial term: Mills Godwin, who served from 1966 to 1970 and 1974 to 1978, and was the first governor in history to be elected as a Democrat and a Republican.

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