Former governor James S. Gilmore III told a legislative panel on Monday that Virginia's term limit for its chief executives forces them to be excessively caustic and hampers government planning.
Gilmore, a Republican who served from 1998 to 2002 and is now a lawyer in private practice, told the panel that forcing governors to do it all in a single four-year term requires them to "get rough-edged."
"You have to shove pretty hard," he said.
Refusing to allow a governor to run for a second consecutive term, he said, is "a great distortion of the politics of the state" and should be fixed now.
"What we want is the opportunity for the governor to go back to the people and make their case," Gilmore said. "The people are very largely disenfranchised."
The panel, composed of legislators and private citizens, was created by the General Assembly to study Virginia's unique one-term system and make recommendations on how it might be changed.
Gilmore was joined in his support for the change by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), who has long said he believes future governors should be able to succeed themselves. Two years ago, Warner failed in a bid to persuade lawmakers to remove the restriction.
Warner's chief of staff, William Leighty, told the panel that the governor still is hopeful that the succession limitation can be removed.
"Virginia's government is roughly the size of corporate giants Microsoft and Disney," Leighty told the lawmakers. "Undoubtedly, these two companies would not have enjoyed such immense success had it been mandated that they change their CEOs after every fourth year, which Virginia's Constitution requires voters to do."
A proposed constitutional amendment must be approved by two separately elected general assemblies. The state's voters would then have to pass the amendment in a referendum.
Proponents of the change have attempted to pass a bill for years but have not succeeded, despite growing support among former governors and members of the business community. The chairman of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce testified Monday in favor of the constitutional change. Former Republican governor A. Linwood Holton testified in support of a single, six-year gubernatorial term.
The fiercest opponents are typically the lawmakers themselves, who fear that allowing a governor to serve for eight years would reduce their clout, especially when it comes to preparation of the state's two-year budget and the appointment of members of policy-making boards and commissions.
House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) said he is worried that the state's part-time legislators would be at a disadvantage if governors were able to serve for eight years. Griffith has complained for several years that the Warner administration refuses to provide budgeting information, which he said hampers legislators' ability to govern effectively.
Griffith said he could support giving governors the option of a second consecutive term only if the governor gave up some powers or agreed to increase legislative authority.
"That's the beauty of the checks and balances," he said. "We're never going to feel that we have enough power. They're never going to feel that they have enough power. "
But Gilmore and Leighty said the balance of power argument is a red herring.
Gilmore, who often clashed with the legislature over his signature proposal to end the state's car tax, said lawmakers who are not limited to any fixed term in office are vastly more powerful than some give them credit for.
"The governor proposes, the legislature disposes," Gilmore said, something he said lawmakers often reminded him. "That alone is the answer to the myth that governors are dominant in Virginia. They surely are not."
Leighty said Warner "is not persuaded that the balance is currently inappropriate." Ellen Qualls, Warner's spokeswoman, declined to speculate about whether the governor would accept any changes in the office's power in exchange for a two-term bill.