Ken Plum: A matter of style
The experiences of the Virginia colonists with King George III taught them a lesson not forgotten even until today. Executive authorities are not to be trusted. Monarchies are likely to try to take away the people’s rights and property. The assertions of the Declaration of Independence were to make it clear that the people of America had sworn off monarchial government. They were not about to replace a king with a president or a government who might try to exert the kind of absolute executive power they had under the king. Instead, controls were incorporated in the U.S. Constitution as well as state constitutions to keep the executive authority in check. Virginia’s limitations on the governor were especially limiting. For example, the governor’s term was one year. He could run for re-election more than once, but likewise he could be turned out after just one year. We have loosened up somewhat in modern times by extending the term to four years, but there is a limitation of one consecutive term. The governor can run for an additional term, but it cannot be consecutive with the first. I think the one-term limitation is unnecessarily restrictive and have voted more than once to allow the governor to run for a second consecutive term. One term may keep a governor under control, but it can also limit his or her effectiveness.
Governor Terry McAuliffe was a high-energy, strongly motivated, hard-charging governor whose accomplishments exceeded those of his predecessors. He accepted the fact he had just one term, and he worked energetically to get all he could done in the relatively short four-year term. He pushed the legislature to get things done, and he did not hesitate to use executive authority when necessary. He was taken to court by the Republicans for restoring citizenship rights to those who had been incarcerated, but he won and restored citizenship rights to 172,000 ex-felons. He brought about a New Virginia Economy of high employment, job growth, and attractiveness to those seeking to locate a company here.
Governor Ralph Northam who served under the shadow of Governor McAuliffe as lieutenant governor was always recognized as being extremely able but without the show of high-energy and flair of the Governor. No one questioned his ability, but it was widely concluded that he would bring a different style to the governorship. Most expected a mild-mannered, cordial leader who would govern more by consensus.
Clearly the styles are different, but there may have been a bit of selling short Governor Northam because of his easy Eastern Shore manner. His inauguration speech as well his first speech to the General Assembly were anything but mild or equivocal. They were as strong and as direct as any that Governor McAuliffe delivered. Calling upon his background as a physician, he built a hard case for the expansion of health services to the people in need in the Commonwealth. He is as direct as anyone I have heard speak about the need for common-sense gun control measures. He is emphatic in his defense of women’s reproductive rights.
We may not have a second term for the governor in Virginia, but we have a governor taking over who is going to continue the policies of his predecessor. The difference in the two will simply be a matter of style.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates