ARTICLE V of the Virginia Constitution makes it clear
that the governor “shall be ineligible to the same office for the term next succeeding that for which he was elected.” This gubernatorial one-term limit, which has been in place since the adoption of Virginia’s second constitution in 1830, makes the commonwealth unique among the 50 states.
In fact, since the Civil War, only one Virginia governor has served two, albeit non-current, terms: Mills Godwin Jr.—who ran as a Democrat in 1965, and was later reelected governor, but as a Republican, in 1973.
The reasoning behind this 190-year-old constitutional provision is simple: the governor of Virginia has broad executive and administrative powers, and limiting the chief executive to just one term is a way to check gubernatorial power and prevent encroachments on citizens’ rights and liberty.
“It dates back to 1776,” Brent Tarter, a retired historian with the Library of Richmond, explained. “There was a legacy of resentment of royal authority at the time of the American Revolution, and the way royal authority was exercised was through the office of the governor.” For that reason, it has survived many legislative attempts to change it.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has recently filed paperwork with the Virginia State Board of Elections that would enable him to run for a non-current term as governor again, like Godwin did. It’s perfectly legal, although it conflicts with the spirit of the one-term limit. He’s already building a warchest: His Common Good VA political action committee raised $1.7 million in just two months this summer, although a spokesman said that he is “making no decisions on 2021 until after we defeat Donald Trump.”
Virginians will recall that McAuliffe had presidential ambitions himself last year, until he found himself “utterly dead in the water” in early polls, “behind basically everyone” in the Democratic Party lineup—including Eric Swalwell, Andrew Yang and Michael Bloomberg—and tied for last place with John Delaney and Jay Inslee.
That kind of drubbing by his own party would have convinced most politicians to retreat to private life to lick their wounds, but not McAuliffe, who has been called “a walking exclamation point.” Despite his spokesman’s demurrals, “the most ambitious man alive” is clearly laying the groundwork for another run for governor.
With his high-profile as a top Democratic fundraiser, party operative and friend to the Clintons, he could easily elbow lesser-known candidates—such as Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D–Woodbridge, and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D–Richmond—out of the way.
McAuliffe bragged that the high point of his governorship was his executive order providing for a blanket restoration of voting rights for a group of 206,000 felons regardless of their crimes—which the Virginia Supreme Court struck down as unprecedented and unconstitutional in 2016, and which even former Gov. Tim Kaine declined to do.
McAuliffe was very good at attracting business to Virginia, with $6.4 billion in capital investments to his credit, something his hand-picked successor, Ralph Northam, seems determined to reverse. But it’s time to give the rest of the bench a chance at bat. Somebody in the party should gently, but firmly tell The Macker that once in enough.
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