For the second election cycle in a row, it appears my Virginia House delegate will enter a general election uncontested, as did my state senator in 2015. With filings for independent candidates due June 13, I had considered but decided against a House of Delegates run. And it’s bugging the hell out of me that I came to this decision.
First, spending more than a month in Richmond each year isn’t very conducive to family life. I know that 140 members do it now; God love ’em. Second, delegate pay is $17,640 a year. You need a second, noncontinuous source of income. It’s impossible to hold a workaday job and a seat in the General Assembly. Last, running as a rookie independent means little to no chance of winning. My district strongly leans toward one party and is represented by a four-term incumbent with almost $250,000 cash on hand.
And here’s what really bugs me: I have the gumption to make a difference and some good ideas to make Virginia better for all its residents. But I’m at a severe competitive disadvantage in putting them to the test on the political stage.
How do we make these elections more competitive?
For starters, we need to pay General Assembly members a salary that will attract a more diverse set of candidates — candidates who don’t have to rely on their own fortunes to become legislators (and who may then be tempted to further enrich themselves). Oh, I’m sure I’ll hear grumbling about “career politicians” on this point. But voters have a tool to limit terms: It’s called a ballot. And General Assembly members will grumble, too, as their tenure becomes uncertain with a more competitive political landscape.
We also need to overhaul a codified electoral system that favors the continued dominance of the two major parties.
To make the commonwealth a better place to live and work, we need emphasis on business growth rather than business entrenchment. We can reduce occupational licensing requirements to open up the door to new entrepreneurs and workers. We can bar salary history from employment applications to promote pay equity, render all noncompete agreements unenforceable to increase competition, and make parole dependent on completion of education or training to reduce recidivism.
We can make Virginia friendlier for consumers by eliminating the ineffective annual vehicle safety-inspection program, ending barriers to entry to Internet providers and car retailers , and getting out of the alcoholic beverage distribution and retail business.
We need to overhaul an income tax system that was built for the 1920s, not the 2020s. We need to eliminate all tax expenditures that provide favor and advantage. And we must maintain our roads with the knowledge that the gas tax provides only 25 percent of the revenue that’s needed.
Maybe this can be a project for me when the kids move out. But for now, I’m hoping that someone in different circumstances with good, dynamic ideas will step up. Virginia is a pretty terrific place to live. We can do even better.