The Charles Robb case raises the question of whether Virginia should get rid of the Bobby Kennedy provision in its constitution.
This provision requiring that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor be registered voters for five years before their election was adopted in a general revision of the Virginia constitution in 1970. The old constitution merely required residence for five years.
Those who drafted the new provision in 1969 had in mind the late Sen. Robert Kennedy's election in New York in 1964, when he was thought by most people to be a man from Massachusetts who lived in Virginia because of his connection with the federal government.
Fearing that some other charismatic figure in a national administration might settle in Northern Virginia and sieze an opportunity to trade on his or her renown to run for governor or lieutenant governor, the drafters decided to add the registration check. It would at least require someone with political roots in another state to sever them and become a voting Virginian long before a political opportunity arose.
The provision was adopted and forgotten until Charles S. (Chuck) Robb, son-in-law of the late President Johnson, came along last year as a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Robb has been a resident of Virginia for much more than five years and registered to vote in Arlington in 1971. However, on Sept. 22, 1972, he sold his Arlington home but did not bother to transfer his registration to Albemarle County, where he then lived.
Although not qualified to do so, he cast an absence ballot in Arlington in the 1972 presidential election and did not again register to vote where he lived until Sept. 28, 1973, less than five years before his prospective election next Nov. 8.
Considering Robb's age, education and political connections, it is mildly entertaining that as recently as 1972 he did not know where he was supposed to vote.
However, Charles Hofheimer, counsel to the state Democratic Party, and legal scholar A.E. Dick Howard, leading interpreter of the Virginia constitution, argue that the year-long hiatus in Robb's qualification to vote does not disqualify him from becoming lieutenant governor this year.
Their point is that the new provision simply provides an easily verifiable public record of a candidate's residence five years before election and does not require continuous qualification to vote during the five years.
The constitution elsewhere distinguishes between registered voters and qualified voters, they say, making it clear to them that it is possible to be a registered voter by virtue of being on the registrar's rolls without actually being qualified to vote. If the drafters of the new constitution had wanted candidates to be qualified voters, they say, they would have used that term. However, they argue, this would have introduced the complexities of proving residence that the drafters were trying to avoid.
The trouble with this interpretation is that it renders the registered voter provision almost meaningless. A national figure could register in McLean in time to vote in a presidential election, move to New York after the election to work for a Wall Street law firm for three years, return to Virginia in time to re-register for the next presidential election and then in the next year run for lieutenant governor or governor without running afoul of the registration provision.
This is hardly a frightening prospect for Howard, who believes the state's electorate doesn't need any constitutional provision to safeguard it against the election of someone who is not a real Virginian. He also points out that Virginia voters have never displayed a propensity to elect celebrities to state office over veterans of state government and politics.
But it may be a new era. Few would argue that Charles Robb would be where he is today as a leading contender for lieutenant governor if he had married an Austin, Tex., grocer's daughter instead of Lynda Johnson.
It is equally clear that the prospects of former Navy Secretary John Warner for statewide office as a Republican have been enhanced by the media attentin that followed his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor.
There are figures in both parties with experience in state politics and government who see their chances for statewide office foreclosed or threatened.
To them it seems that advancement in the political system in which they have long labored is closed except to rich celebrities.
But to the electorate, it may appear that a closed system is one that limits choices to candidates who have paid all their dues as party and government regulars. The voters may be grateful that wealth and fame, however gained, occasionally present new alternatives.
Robb has already made his candidacy legitimate by a painstaking personal campaign to corners of the state seldom seen by many public officials. Warner seems determined to do the same - at least in those corners of the state where Republicans will make a place for him and his bride at a banquet's head table.
In the end, it is campaigning that legitimizes candidates and catches the consciousness of the electorate. Provisions like the registered voter restriction in the Virginia constitution may be intended to safeguard the voter against opportunists but in fact is there to safeguard one set of political figures against competition from another.
It's another piece of government over-regulation that ought to be junked.