By Shelby Mertens
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Starting in 2017, Virginia voters could have the opportunity to re-elect the governor to a second consecutive term if the House joins the Senate in seeking to amend the state’s Constitution.
The Senate this week approved a proposed constitutional amendment to allow governors to serve two terms in a row. The vote was 25-15.
Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Lynchburg, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 276. “I got the idea back from eighth grade, learning about Virginia government. I thought it was odd governors only had one term,” he said.
Garrett said an extra four years in office would make it easier for the governor to tackle long-term problems such as transportation.
Sen. John Miller, D-Newport News, voted in favor of the bill.
“We ought to give the voters the opportunity to decide whether a governor should keep his job and be re-elected,” Miller said.
Miller said he also believes allowing governors to serve a second term would allow them to accomplish more.
“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.
SJ 276 was co-sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, and Delegates Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, and David Ramadan, R-South Riding. 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,” Miller said.
Two identical proposals had been filed in the House: House Joint Resolution 549, introduced by Delegate Bob Purkey, R-Virginia Beach; and HJ 679, by Delegate Bob Brink, D-Arlington
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.
Virginia is the only state that does not allow governors to serve consecutive terms. 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 Virginia 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 in Virginia politics would be an extremely significant shift in the institutional politics of Virginia,” Skelley said.
In the Senate, there was bipartisan support for SJ 276: 16 Democrats and nine Republicans voted for it, while 11 Republicans and four Democrats opposed it.
Skelley noted that the issue drew more support from Democrats than from Republicans.
“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.
However, Skelley said it’s possible that, over time, Virginia might ease its term limit on the governor.
“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.”
If the resolution passes in the House, it still has a ways to go. Because it calls for a constitutional amendment, the resolution 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.
How They Voted
Here is how senators voted on Monday, Jan. 28, on “SJ 276 Constitutional amendment; Governor’s term of office (first reference).”
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.