- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Virginia Republicans are joining Democrats to change state law that bars governors from serving two consecutive terms.

Former Gov. James S. Gilmore III is among the Republicans who have joined Gov. Mark Warner in pushing for the change, saying substantial progress cannot be made in one term.

“Four years is not enough to push forward successful programs in the modern age,” Mr. Gilmore told The Washington Times. “You can make some progress, but the next governor may come in with an entirely different attitude.”

Virginia is the only state where the constitution bars governors from seeking back-to-back terms, a measure that has remained unchanged since the mid-1800s. However, the state allows governors to sit out one term and run again.

Previous attempts to amend the constitution have failed on close votes, but recent bipartisan support gives the proposal a better chance of passing the Republican-controlled General Assembly in the coming year.

Mills E. Godwin Jr. is the only Virginia governor to sit out one term and run again. He was elected as a Democrat from 1966-1970, then ran as a Republican, serving from 1974-1978.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, would be ineligible even if the General Assembly amends the constitution, but he has been a strong advocate for the change since taking office.

He said last week on WTOP Radio that such a change would save taxpayers money because the state would run more like a company, including the streamlining of government operations.

“Those things take time in a Fortune 500 company, and they take even longer in state government,” said Mr. Warner, a successful entrepreneur before entering politics. “For long-term efficiency, it makes good sense.”

Mr. Gilmore said governors must be aggressive under the existing system because legislators have no term limits, so they can “just wait you out.”

He also said if governors could seek re-election, they would be more careful in their plans — particularly when raising or cutting taxes.

The limitation on gubernatorial terms was put in place to ensure a check-and-balance system, so there would be no abuse of power.

One concern is that the General Assembly meets just six or eight weeks annually, which critics say allows governors to run the government by themselves for the rest of the year.

Critics of changing the constitution argue that Virginia governors are already powerful, because they have line-item veto power and make hundreds of appointments to boards and commissions.

However, Virginia governors are ranked 26th in the nation in terms of power, according to a 2002 study done by a University of North Carolina professor.

Mr. Warner, who would not rule out running again for governor, said he wants to work with legislators in “good faith” to make the change, perhaps giving up some of the governor’s power.

Delegate R. Steven Landes, Weyers Cave Republican, leads the subcommittee considering the amendment this year.

He supports the change, which would go into effect in 2006 if legislators pass the amendment in the upcoming session.

“The people will hold the person in that office accountable for what they did in their first term, and they can have a greater impact in the longer term,” he said. “Four years seems like a long time, but to make changes in government, that sometimes is not long enough.”

The subcommittee will meet today to hear testimony from the state Republican and Democratic parties and U.S. Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican who was governor in the 1990s.

Mr. Landes said the hearing would include discussions on which gubernatorial powers would be limited and on giving lawmakers more access to budget information.

The amendment also has support from former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat and Richmond mayor-elect.

His commission on government efficiency recommended the change.

But former Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr., a Republican, said he would prefer a six-year term so governors would not be preoccupied with re-election.

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