Jody Wagner for Virginia lieutenant governor

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Monday, October 19, 2009

JODY WAGNER, Virginia's former secretary of finance, is the sort of Democrat that helped cement the Old Dominion's status as among the cleanest, best managed and most business-friendly states in the country. She is easily the better choice as Virginia's next lieutenant governor and would represent a sharp improvement over the incumbent Republican seeking reelection, Bill Bolling.

In Virginia, the real importance of the job of lieutenant governor -- the reason the job is sought after -- is not in presiding over the state Senate, attending functions or serving on a handful of boards and commissions. Rather, the person who wins the job has a plausible claim to standing in the on-deck circle for the governorship four years hence. Just ask Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), or, as he was known four years ago, Lt. Gov. Kaine.

Smart, tough-minded and capable, Ms. Wagner would be among the best-prepared public officials to assume the job. A former corporate lawyer, she started a successful family business (making kettle corn) before going to work for then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). Then, as Mr. Kaine's finance secretary -- she resigned this year to launch her campaign -- she developed an authoritative command of state government, spending and income, critical knowledge for the challenges posed by the recession.

Unlike the usual run of officeholders in Richmond, she is more pragmatist and problem-solver than partisan political warrior. As the only one of the six statewide candidates to have had hands-on experience with the state's budget, she would be uniquely well placed to serve as a resource for whichever candidate is elected governor.

Mr. Bolling, by contrast, has been a politician for almost 20 years. He had every intention of running for governor this year, but was outmaneuvered by fellow Republican Robert F. McDonnell, the former attorney general. He is a quick-witted and affable fellow but more attuned to political expediency than the actual business of governance.

A conservative lawmaker before he was elected lieutenant governor four years ago, Mr. Bolling voted for some of the more ambitious spending packages in the state's history, particularly ones proposed by Republican governors during the dotcom boom. Now he attacks Virginia's outlays as having been profligate. He opposed Mr. Warner's tax increase in 2004, a large chunk of which went to boost public schools. Now he talks about the vital importance of an enormous increase in teacher salaries.

Of particular interest to Northern Virginia, his ideas on transportation funding are patently unworkable. He proposes raiding already bare-bones core state services to pay for transportation but bobs, weaves and ducks when pressed to say which ones -- education? public safety? human services? health? -- he would target.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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