01 February 2007

Sic Semper Tyrannis

My hometown paper recently featured an op-ed piece supporting a bill that will allow Virginia’s governors to serve two **consecutive terms. Bad idea. Proponents of this legislation like to point out that Virginia is the only (eye roll please) state in the Union that still prohibits their governor from serving two consecutive terms. So what? If there is only one state in the Union with good sense, I’m honored that it happens to be Virginia. When looking at Virginia’s many positives: job opportunities, business climate, bond ratings, tax policies, etc., this concern appears to be motivated by something other than “good government.” I suspect that most proponents want more power concentrated in the executive branch for other reasons; reasons that would not benefit Virginia’s citizens, but would benefit career politicians. My suspicion comes from my *own experience in government. As my grandfather used to say, “I smell a skunk.” This bill is a skunk.

A little history lesson will help us understand this so-called “anachronism.” This prohibition can be traced to colonial times when our Founding Fathers’ memory was still fresh regarding the heavy hand of King George, III. They had a healthy fear of placing too much power into the hands of one man for too long; and with good reason. This fear and distrust was expressed, along with a not so subtle warning, in the Commonwealth of Virginia's seal and flag. The seal shows Virtue, sword in hand, with her foot on the conquered form of Tyranny, whose crown lies nearby. The seal was the design of George Wythe. Wythe signed the Declaration of Independence and taught law to Thomas Jefferson. These men wanted Virginia to be governed primarily by a “citizen legislature”, which is much closer and accessible to the Commonwealth’s citizenry. I can call—or visit personally—my state senator and delegate. I email them both fairly regularly and, in most cases, get prompt, courteous replies. Try that with the governor. The “continuity in office” that some supporters of this bill are concerned about is maintained in the legislature. The center of power in Virginia rests in our legislature and that is where it should remain.

Virginia’s governor appoints over 3000 individuals to various boards, agencies, and departments which all hold enormous and far-reaching power over Virginia’s citizenry. Many of these are subject to serve “at the pleasure of the governor” and, thus, are also subject to change with each four-year election cycle. This allows many Virginians with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge to serve in Virginia’s government. This regular turnover with fresh ideas and perspectives is healthy. Allowing governors to serve more than one term will “crown” them with more power and create much more cronyism and “career” types in our state government. This will encourage the likelihood of corruption and “staleness” in government. That’s the last thing we need. Doubt me? Cast your eyes towards Washington, D.C., but hold your nose as you do. Washington is full of career politicians from both parties—is that what we want in Virginia?

A powerful citizen legislature has many benefits for society. By serving part-time, our lawmakers must return to their districts and work and live among those whom they serve. They must live under and obey the same laws they pass and have to answer to the voters at each election cycle. They are much more likely to suffer swift repercussions for bad decisions. This dynamic actually transfers the power of government to where our founders intended it to be—in the hands of citizens. The governor’s position is, by necessity, a full-time position. He is much more isolated and insulated from Virginia’s citizens and more influenced by political hacks, regardless of party affiliation. Most of Virginia’s governors in recent years have also had their eyes on higher office making them weigh their decisions with those aspirations in mind—instead of what’s best for the Commonwealth.

If you're a Virginian, tell your delegate and senator you trust them more than any governor and to vote no on this bad idea. It will inflate their egos and, if this bad idea is voted down, make you more powerful. Forget the crown, kill the skunk.

*(I served 12 years as a Magistrate for the Commonwealth of Virginia and four years as an appointee of former Virginia Governor, George Allen.)
**(They can serve as many terms as they can get elected to, just not in succession. In other words, take a break and go live under the various bills you signed into law--could be an eye-opener.)


David said...

I'm a teacher here in Virginia and just found your blog while doing research for one of my classes. Excellent observations! Thanks for sharing your passion for history and truth. Keep up the good work. God bless. David

P.S. Where did you get that image of the Virginia seal? Is it the original by Wythe? That's how I found your site looking for the original Wythe seal.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello David - thanks for visiting! Honestly, I don't remember where I found that old image. Its the pre-WBTS version - the newest one showing what one friend of mine describes as "the raped (post-war) version of Lady Virginia."

Where and what do you teach, if you don't mind me asking?