Jody Wagner on June 9

Sunday, May 31, 2009

THE JUNE 9 Democratic governor's primary, in which we earlier endorsed state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, has sucked much of the oxygen from the other races. On the undercard, though, a compelling contest is unfolding for the Democratic lieutenant governor's nod; the Republican candidate, selected yesterday, is incumbent Bill Bolling. At one time five candidates considered running; after Jon Bowerbank, a member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors, dropped out this month, only two were left: Michael Signer, a relative newcomer to Virginia politics, and Jody Wagner, a veteran of the Kaine and Warner administrations. Mr. Signer brings a fresh approach, but Ms. Wagner, endorsed by Mr. Bowerbank and Virginia Reps. Bobby Scott, Glenn Nye and Rick Boucher, is the superior choice.

Mr. Signer is a think-tank wonk who holds three degrees -- from the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Virginia and Princeton -- and has written a book on democracy and constitutionalism. It would be a mistake, though, to think of Mr. Signer as only an academic: The Arlington native also worked as a deputy counselor to former governor Mark R. Warner, helped Rep. Tom Perriello (D) upset incumbent Republican Virgil Goode last year and has been involved in protecting voters' rights in Virginia since 2004. Mr. Signer hits the usual points on the campaign trail -- jobs, transportation, education -- but isn't afraid to broach subjects many politicians consider taboo, including the need to grant ex-felons voting rights.

But Ms. Wagner is impressive in her own right and, more to the point, better suited for the job. A Virginia Beach resident, she has an unmatched grasp of the state's finances and would be a major asset to whoever becomes governor. As state treasurer under Mr. Warner, Ms. Wagner helped extricate Virginia from the risky fiscal policies of former governor Jim Gilmore (R); as finance secretary under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), Ms. Wagner preserved the state's triple-A bond rating and shaped a budget that has weathered the recession better than most. Ms. Wagner could help the next governor navigate the financial nitty-gritty to piece together a transportation plan or expand Mr. Kaine's initiative for preschool. She would also keep in mind the challenges facing owners of small businesses, having started with her husband a gourmet popcorn company called Jody's.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company