By Shelby Mertens
Capital News Service
Starting in 2017, Virginia voters could have the opportunity to reelect the governor to a second consecutive term if the House joins the Senate in seeking to amend the state’s Constitution.
The Senate has approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow governors to serve two terms in a row. The vote last week was 25-15.
The resolution now moves to the House of Delegates, where its fate is uncertain.
“I’m not real optimistic about its chances, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News. "We ought to give the voters the opportunity to decide whether a governor should keep his job and be reelected."
Virginia is the only state that does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms. Sen. Thomas Garrett, the Lynchburg Republican who introduced Senate Joint Resolution 276, said an extra four years in office would make it easier for the governor to tackle long-term problems such as transportation —
“It is important to give the governor sufficient time to really complete an agenda. Under a one-term limitation, the governor comes in and spends his first couple of years working on the previous governor’s budget,” Miller said.
Because it calls for a constitutional amendment, the resolution, if it passes, would require approval again from the General Assembly in 2014. Then it would appear on the November 2014 ballot for a statewide vote. If the majority of voters approve, the constitutional amendment would take effect.
The Senate joint resolution was co-sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria. Dels. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and David Ramadan, R-South Riding, are its patrons in the House.
While the measure drew more support from Democrats than Republicans in the bipartisan nod, Democratic Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax was one of the proposal's largest critics. Petersen said he feared a multiple-term governor could open the door to a full-time Senate, replacing the citizen legislature that has been in place for the past 225 years.
"We're a citizen legislature and I know I'm a lot like the rest of ya'll: At the end of this work day, I'm back up in my office talking to clients and answering emails from my office," Petersen said. "And I guarantee you if we pass this the next bill, the next one down the line will be to make us a full-time legislature with a full-time salary. Well, you can count me out of this effort also. Because at the end of the day, I believe in what we do here and I believe in the system in which we do it."
Fourteen states have no gubernatorial term limits; 27 have a two-consecutive-term limit and four limit governors to two consecutive or nonconsecutive terms.
In Montana, the governor is limited to eight years within a 16-year period, while the Wyoming governor is limited to two four-year terms within a 16-year period. In Utah, the governor is limited to 12 consecutive years. The limit in Florida is eight years but with no lifetime limit.
Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said the Old Dominion is unique in limiting its governor to a single term. He doesn’t believe this will change soon.
“This will probably not get anywhere in the House of Delegates because such a change... would be an extremely significant shift in the institutional politics of Virginia,” Skelley said.
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Privileges and Elections folded Brink’s resolution into Purkey’s and then tabled HJ 549 on a voice vote in late January.
“I think the Republicans are more focused on small government. And House Republicans, who are generally more conservative, will view this as a road to more governmental power to the executive,” Skelley said.
But Skelley said it’s possible Virginia might ease its term limit on the governor over time.
“The fact that it passed in the Senate is proof that there is some desire out there for it,” Skelley said. “It’s an indication that there is some portion of the political establishment that supports it.”
How They Voted
Here is how senators voted on SJ 276:
YEAS – Blevins, Colgan, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Garrett, Herring, Howell, Locke, Marsden, Marsh, Martin, McEachin, Miller, Norment, Northam, Obenshain, Puckett, Puller, Reeves, Saslaw, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins – 25.
NAYS – Alexander, Barker, Black, Carrico, Hanger, Lucas, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Petersen, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart – 15.
Patch Associate Regional Editor Erica R. Hendry contributed to this report.