You know, if we could pilot the political way-back machine to 1851 and change just one thing about Virginia’s cobbled-together Constitution, it would be the ridiculous prohibition against a governor “succeeding himself” (and no, that’s not code for some sort of pornographic act). Now don’t get us wrong—we have nothing against executive-office term limits (without them, the Oval Office would probably still be occupied, “Futurama”-style, by Ronald Reagan’s glass-encased head). But c’mon—this mandated ditching of our beloved (or beleaguered) leader after four years, whether we like it or not, has been a royal pain in the Commonwealth’s collective kiester for over 150 years.
Is it any wonder that Jim Gilmore (pictured) and Mark Warner, who could each only serve four years as Virginia’s governor, are looking for further employment in the U.S. Senate?
Yes, we know it could be worse. After all, Virginia’s original 1776 Constitution actually called for the General Assembly to appoint both a new governor and a “council of state” every year, and limited the executive to three successive terms. Now, we don’t now about you, but the idea of our dysfunctional Assembly trading out governors at a faster rate than they renew their concealed handgun permits chills us to our very soul.
Anyway, aside from making The Old Dominion’s top dog a lame duck from the get-go (mixed metaphor alert!), the other big problem with this four-years-and-out requirement is that our ex-govs are invariably tossed out of work way before retirement age, and are thus forced to rattle around the countryside, looking for something—anything!—to keep themselves occupied.
And that’s how we end up with oddities like this year’s U.S. Senate race, which features not one, but two former Virginia governors, locked in an increasingly yawn-inducing battle for the hearts and minds of the six people who actually care.
Of course, Democrat Mark Warner initially set his sights on a higher office, but ultimately decided that he didn’t have the stomach for a national presidential campaign (and watching Barack Obama try to beat back Hillary Clinton, who seems more and more like a cross between Anita Bryant and the liquid-metal killing machine from Terminator II: Judgment Day, he’s probably counting his blessings). Republican Jim Gilmore, on the other hand, is almost certainly looking at this as a step up from his current job as a Loch Ness Monster mop boy at Busch Gardens.
Regardless, watching the candidates share the stage at the recent Shad Planking political festival in Wakefield, you could feel the palpable yearning for the days when their every word was reported from Fredericksburg to Fancy Gap, and their every action was…well, summarily ignored by the General Assembly, but you get the idea. (And yes, the other Republican hopeful, Delegate Bob Marshall, was also there—but he was ignored so completely by the ex-govs that he must have felt a bit like a shad himself as he sat fuming in the sun: slow-cooked while nailed to a board.)
In the end, however, there can be only one successor to the retiring Senator John Warner—and we wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to say who that may be (although, just between pals, I think the Dirksen Senate Office staff might just be able to reuse one senatorial nameplate). But whomever emerges as the victor, he can rest assured that, as a sitting U.S. senator, he’ll finally be able to perform his duties as the founding fathers intended: lazily, with frequent extended breaks (it’s even called “recess,” just like in kindergarten!), knowing all the while that the power of incumbency (and lack of those pesky term limits) will likely keep him in office forever. God bless America!