RICHMOND — Governors who disagree on nearly everything else concurred yesterday on the need to give Virginia’s chief executives more than one four-year term.
“It’s time for the state to get with the program and give the people the opportunity to decide,” former Gov. James S. Gilmore III told a panel looking into changing Virginia’s unique limit of a single term for governors.
Mr. Gilmore, a Republican, and his Democratic successor, Gov. Mark Warner, have argued that being ineligible for a second consecutive term robs them of the chance to make meaningful reforms and puts the state at a disadvantage in the cutthroat competition among states for economic development. Governors now can run again only after sitting out a term.
Mr. Warner’s chief of staff, William H. Leighty, addressed the panel on behalf of the governor yesterday, arguing that four years is too brief for any leader to carry out any mandate to change government.
“When I went to [the Virginia Retirement System], I couldn’t change the culture of that place in just four years,” said Mr. Leighty, who was executive director of the state pension fund for seven years before he came to the governor’s office with Mr. Warner in 2002.
Mr. Leighty said corporate leaders negotiating with governors on which state becomes the site for a major expansion like to see at least the opportunity of dealing with the same state chief executive for more than four years.
A. Linwood Holton Jr., the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, attended yesterday’s meeting of the joint subcommittee studying two-term governors, but did not speak.
Bills to allow governors to seek successive terms have been perennial losers for years in a General Assembly that jealously guards its authority. With its annual sessions of only six or eight weeks, legislators contend that governors have 10 months or more to run the state by themselves and that their power to make appointments to hundreds of boards and commissions gives them too much authority already.
Delegate Harry R. Purkey, Virginia Beach Republican, has sponsored two-term-governor legislation for years. A bill he sponsored last year to amend the state constitution to permit gubernatorial succession was carried over to the 2005 session.
Lawmakers of both parties, however, have been skeptical, even as governors of both parties and vastly divergent viewpoints have rallied behind second-term proposals.
Mr. Gilmore said the opportunity for a second term might have changed the hard-charging and sometimes uncompromising stand he took with legislators during his administration, particularly in 2001, his bruising final year.
“The truth is you are a lame duck as you ease into that fourth year, and they [lawmakers] know you’re not coming back,” Mr. Gilmore said. “If you give a governor another four years, he can be a little more diplomatic.
“Two-term governors are better for the republic and better for the democracy of the state. This is not a radical idea,” he said, noting that the practice has served the federal government and every other state for decades.
Knowing that they would have to defend their first-term actions in a re-election bid would make governors more responsive to the public, said Mr. Gilmore, now a partner in a D.C. law firm, but still a force in Republican politics who intends to run for office again someday.
“You want governors thinking about that, frankly. He needs to understand that his policies will be the subject of a broad conversation and driven by campaign money,” Mr. Gilmore said.
Delegate Johnny S. Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat, said he felt the opposite was more likely.
“If you have a second term, the first would be about what is politically correct instead of what is correct,” he said.