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Consecutive governor terms passed by Senate


RICHMOND—While companion legislation has already died in the House, the state Senate on Monday voted to give future Virginia governors two terms in office.

Virginia is the only state that limits its governors to one term, although Virginia governors are allowed to serve more than one term as long as they are not consecutive—they have to wait a cycle before running again.

For at least two decades, lawmakers—some years it’s just Del. Harry Purkey; in other years, like this one, it’s more—have been filing bills to let Virginia’s governors succeed themselves.

The argument in favor of doing so is that letting a governor run for re-election gives accountability, and serving for eight years would give governors more opportunity to advance long-term reforms.

Sen. Tom Garrett, R–Louisa—who was sponsor of the constitutional amendment that passed 25–15 Monday in the state Senate—pointed to the long-standing problem of transportation funding in Virginia. A governor who could serve two terms, he suggested, might have made more headway on that unsolved issue than those whose time in office lasts just four years.

Two terms gives “consistency in messaging, consistency in executive leadership,” Garrett said. “There would be a greater likelihood that something got done.”

Support or opposition among other senators crossed partisan lines.

Sen. Ryan McDougle, R–Hanover, opposed it, saying that Virginia consistently gets high marks as a well-run state, even with the one-term governor distinction.

“We have a good course of government here in Virginia, one that works well between the legislative and executive branch, one we should keep in place,” McDougle said.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D–Fairfax, also opposed it, saying that Virginia’s one-term governor—and citizen legislature—is a system that dates back to Revolutionary times and still works.  “We’re not the other states. We’re us. We have a citizen legislature. We have a one-term governor. We had a one-term governor back when Patrick Henry was governor,” Petersen said. “Thomas Jefferson was a pretty good governor, he didn’t succeed himself.  We don’t have to be like all the other kids.”

Petersen warned that getting rid of the unique one-term governor structure would lead to losing the citizen legislature.

“If we pass this, the next bill down the line will be to make us a full-time legislature with a full-time salary,” Petersen said, adding that his fellow senators could count him out for that.

But Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, advocated for modernizing rather than holding onto a historical system.

“The fact that 49 other states have done it, you’d think would tell us something,” Saslaw said. “I would hope that we would vote for this constitutional amendment. This is one uniqueness that we ought not to be boasting of.”

The Senate passed the amendment on a 25–15 vote. But a House committee has already killed a House version of Garrett’s amendment, and his is likely to meet the same fate.

Chelyen Davis:  804/343-2245