THE STATE of Virginia, blessed by years of moderate and pragmatic governance, is a success story with significant pockets of unfinished business. Wouldn’t it be nice if the candidates for governor, who have devoted prodigious amounts of time and energy to tearing each other to pieces, expended equal effort in defining the issues that should matter to Virginians?
Blessed by business-friendly policies, good (but uneven) schools and the economic dynamism of the Washington suburbs and Hampton Roads, Virginia’s economy has recovered strongly from the recession. East of the Mississippi, only New Hampshire and Vermont have lower unemployment rates than Virginia’s, which is 5.7 percent. Nationally, no other state of a comparable or larger population has so little joblessness.
Just a half-dozen other states are in Virginia’s company in having maintained a AAA credit rating for more than a decade. Most serious crime, as well as suicide, is below the national average. And in only a handful of states does such a big slice of the population have undergraduate and advanced degrees.
All that lends a discordant quality to Virginia’s dispiriting gubernatorial election, a daily grind of attack ads, mudslinging and character assassination. The two candidates, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican, and Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, have expended so much time and energy impugning each other’s qualifications that voters would be excused for having no sense of the stakes in the election.
A plausible explanation for the campaign’s dreariness is that Virginia has lately dealt with its most pressing major problem: a transportation funding system that was teetering on its last legs. Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican who spent years resisting higher taxes to fix the state’s roads, rails and bridges, finally bit the bullet and signed one of the state’s biggest revenue billsthis year.
Mr. McDonnell, despite the self-generated scandal that has consumed his final year in office, is the most recent example of the centrist consensus that has guided state government in Virginia for years. That consensus has helped make the state an attractive place to live and work. The most important question in the current election is which candidate is most likely to safeguard that consensus and maintain a trajectory that has benefited so many Virginians.
Beyond endless expositions on the undeniable shortcomings of the two candidates, the current campaign would be more enlightening if it devoted more energy to the challenges confronting the state.
Those challenges include major disparities in wealth and income and a population suffering from high rates of obesity and diabetes. They include schools and colleges buffeted by cutbacks in state funding. And they include an ongoing effort to clean up the Chesapeake Bay that will require sustained commitment and spending.
It’s wishful thinking to imagine a gubernatorial race free of rancor, but the current contest seems to feature little else. That leaves some voters scratching their heads over which candidate is the more capable problem-solver.