Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has proposed allowing voters to change the state Constitution so governors would be permitted to run for a second consecutive term, as the other states allow. Here are two views on the issue, from Colleen Shogan, a government and politics professor at George Mason University, and acting House of Delegates Speaker Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford). Shogan wrote a column; Putney responded to questions.
To understand why Virginia should change its ban on gubernatorial reelection, state legislators need only to look toward Washington and consider the arguments for presidential reelection.
More than 200 years ago, the Constitution's framers grappled with the question of re-eligibility to office at the Philadelphia convention. They debated this issue because they fully understood that structural boundaries determine the scope and potency of an elected office.
Writing in defense of the Constitution in the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton concluded that an effective democratic republic needed an "energetic executive" to maintain a "steady administration of laws" and secure "liberty against the assaults of ambition and faction." In short, good government requires a strong executive, and one of the essential ingredients of a strong executive is duration in office. After more than a decade of ineffective governance under the Articles of Confederation, which provided for no independent executive, the Founders sought a remedy.
Why is duration in office a necessity for a strong, independent executive? Once again, standing on the shoulders of giants, we can look to the Founders for our answer. The framers favored running for office again because they valued constructive ambition, initiative, experience and accountability. These beliefs stemmed from their dominant view of human nature, which emphasized the healthy, reciprocal relationship between self-interest and competent political leadership.
First, as Hamilton explained, individuals are interested in what they possess in proportion to how long they hold it. Faced with the certainty of losing his office, an elected official has little incentive for complex, long-term projects. Hamilton's powerful observation that the "love of fame" is the "ruling passion of the noblest minds" readily applies to contemporary politics.
Furthermore, cooperation between the executive and legislative branches is discouraged by a one-term restriction. Why should legislators work to forge a strong relationship with the governor when his term of office already has an endpoint in sight?
Second, running for another term allows citizens to reappoint competent officials. Experience in office is a valuable asset; it makes no sense to remove someone who has succeeded and delivered promised goods. A one-term limit provides no reward for a job well done and limits the choice of voters by restricting them from selecting a candidate who has served them prudently and efficiently.
Finally, reelection instills the office with a dose of accountability. It allows voters to hold politicians to their campaign promises. Conversely, it reduces the possibility of suffering through four years of a vainglorious chief executive who has little interest in promoting the public good. Greed for public attention and honors can be held in check if an incentive for good behavior -- namely reelection -- is available.
Of course, restricting the governor to two consecutive terms eventually produces a lame duck, but limited re-eligibility is an important step in the right direction. Although support for changing the governor's term is strong, it is likely that the proposal will find formidable opposition in Virginia's House of Delegates. This opposition is understandable because state legislators recognize that consecutive terms would strengthen the governorship and possibly weaken their own hand.
If citizens want to alter how the commonwealth governs itself, they must express support for the proposal and demonstrate that it would be politically dangerous for their representatives to oppose the change. After all, delegates are eligible for reelection and are not immune to the incentives the Founders observed.
-- Colleen Shogan
1. U.S. presidents and governors in other states can succeed themselves. Why not the Virginia governor?
I don't see that as a legitimate analogy at all. When the [U.S.] Constitution was adopted, there were many points of view. Some people said the president should have a seven-year term. Some said four years.
Just because other states have it doesn't mean anything to me.
I don't have a problem with making changes if there is some basis for it. Maybe there is, but i haven't seen any compelling reason to depart from the system we have. I think the system we have is working. I don't know why we need a chief executive to spend the last two years of his four-year term calculating how to get reelected. The chief executive should have a plan and a vision upon being sworn in, then execute it and be ready for someone to take over in four years. It has worked so far.
2. Another argument supporters of consecutive terms make is that governors have little incentive to launch complex, long-term projects if they know they can't succeed themselves. Is that true?
We've always had that ability. Mills E. Godwin Jr. [a former governor who served nonconsecutive terms, first as a Democrat and then as a Republican] looked beyond his four-year term when he created the community college system, when he instituted the first sales tax in Virginia for education. I've never thought the limited number of years diminished a governor's vision, planning and design.
3. Supporters also say it makes no sense to remove someone who has done a good job. Your response?
That's a good argument. If we were going to make any change, I would come down with the same feeling about this as [former governor] Gerald L. Baliles (D). He and I discussed this recently. He has felt if we make a change, that a compromise might be a six-year single term. I have no problem with that. By the way, Baliles was a leader. His objectives were carried out in the four years he had.
4. Is it not true that reelection ensures accountability -- holds the politicians to their campaign promises?
I don't know; it may. If we have been free of corruption -- and we have -- if we're considered a well-managed state -- and we are -- and if we are one of a handful of states with a AAA bond rating, something in Virginia is apparently done right. I want to see what's broken before we go to fix it. I've not seen any signs the wheels are coming off.
-- Lacey E. Putney
LACEY E. PUTNEY