Ever wonder why Virginia is stuck with two unattractive gubernatorial candidates this election?
It’s because the Old Dominion’s political structure is set up to limit voters interest, keep parties from developing deep benches of strong candidates and keep ‘em barefoot and pregnant hayseeds when it comes to having a professional legislature capable of dealing with a major information technology powerhouse that is the No. 1 federal contractor.
I chewed over the set-up in a story in Style Weekly.
- Virginia’s unique one-term limit for governors banning succession creates little solid policy and lots of churn. It also gives experienced elected executives nowhere to go but Capitol Hill unless they want to come back in later cycles are run for governor again, which few do.
- Off-year elections are designed to keep voting anemic. This keeps the power elite in power. Stephen Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington political analyst told me that the people most likely not to vote in off-year elections are African-Americans and people under 30 – in other words, people likely to support change. The new Tea Party mandarins may want change, but they want it in a very manipulative way, i.e. conventions rather than primaries to select candidates. Democratic? My sweet pah-too-tee!
- Parties have trouble building benches. The Democrats are especially bad at it and that’s why Terry McAuliffe was candidate. They didn’t have anyone else. The GOP has the other problem – lots of low tier activism so you get whack-jobs like E.W. Jackson and an overly-powerful Christian right and Tea Party calling the shots.
- Virginia allows only three positions open for state-wide elections. Other states have mid-ranking elected, executive jobs like Treasurer and Secretary of State. In Virginia, hearkening back to Colonial Days, the governor is extremely powerful, but there’s no minor league to bone up on experience.
- Other than the General Assembly, that is. Problem there is our John Boy Walton-style legislature is a throwback to the Model A days. We have legislators serving at most two and a half months. They are paid $17,640 and $18,000 if they are delegates or senators. Now that might sound like a lot of jack in 1924, but they’re trying to deal with tons of highly complex issues for a state whose economy is, in large part, a behemoth in the 21st century. This is another reason why we don’t have any limits on gifts and why Virginian has so many problems with ethics but no ethics commission.
Will it change? Hell no! For all of our bullshit about the “Founders,” the “Patriots” and the Tri-Cornered Hats, and the St. John’s Church speech (“liberty or death,” hah), when it comes to true democracy, Virginia has a lot more in common with Albania during the Cold War days.