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Over at Bacon Rebellion a blogger by the name of D J Rippert has compiled a list of reasons why Virginia is one of the least democratic states in the nation.  While some of his concerns have merit, most do not, as it is obvious that he believes our state government is a democracy.  It is not, but he not alone in this mistake, for there are many Americans who believe that we are democracy, no my friends we are a representative democracy.  We elect representatives to act for the people as a whole.  While we would hope that they all would act like the Honourable Edmund Burke, who made it clear to his constituents, while beholden to listen to their views, he ultimately must act in the best interest of his nation.  Very few of legislators, either at the state or federal level can be viewed of acting with the same fortitude as the Honourable Edumund Burke.  Below are some Mr. Rippert’s concerns, I shall provide a short response teach.

  • Only state in the nation where the governor cannot serve two consecutive terms.

While in the past I have been very supportive of the one term limit on Governor, I believe it is time for the Commonwealth to give due consideration to allowing Governors to serve two terms; or at least extend a Governor’s term to six years.

  • Only four states place no limits on campaign contributions.  Virginia is one of the four.

This is a problem, but like the Gerrymandering of political districts to support either incumbents or to protect one of the two political parties.  Both are going to require a constitutional amendment and both eventually will be enacted but it may take a while.

  • Only four states let their state legislature elect high court judges.  Virginia is one of those four states.

Here is an area where I think Virginia sets a sterling example for the other forty-nine state to emulate.  No less than former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has warned about the dangers of allowing partisan elections to select judges.  Judges must be independent, they must be free from having to worry whether their decision will inflame the passions of the public who may not fully understand the legal issues at stake.  I have lived in Georgia where Justices of the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are elected.  In the period I lived in Georgia 2004-2005 I saw the pernicious influence which partisan politics had on elections.

  • Only four states hold state elections on “off years” (i.e. odd numbered years).  Virginia is one of those states.

Again I think it may be time to reconsider this.  This should be considered not only from a fiscal standpoint but also from a turnout.  There was a time, not too many years ago, that Virginia Politics was dominated by one party, and within that party by Harry F. Byrd (and I should note before him by Hal Flood, and before him Senator Thomas Stapleton Martin).  There was no need to push for large turnouts, except for portions of Southwest Virginia the Republican Party was a non entity.  (If you are interested in this period of Virginia History I would highly recommend two books, Allen Moger, Virginia Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870-1925 and J. Harvie Wilkerson, Harry F. Byrd and the Changing Face of Virginia Politics, 1945-1966.

  • In 27 states, citizens can place matters on the ballot through some form of initiative or referendum process.  Virginia is not among them.

While I would love to see several changes to the Virginia Constitution I want them to be accomplished either through a Constitutional Convention or as amendments introduced by the General Assembly.  I do not want the initiatives.  (It should be noted that Virginia does permit referendum as well as allow Constitutional Amendments to be voted on by the citizens.)  All one must do is look at the problems of governing California, problems that are directly related to the ease of placing initiatives on the ballot.  Again we are not a democracy; the use of the initiative is in essences the introduction of anarchy and prevents the passions of the people from being filtered by the deliberation of the peoples elected representatives.

  • Four states have independent cities.  Missouri, Maryland and Nevada each have one.  Virginia has 39.

We have too many, it cost a lot of money, it results in duplication of services, we need to reign in the number and require a minimum population to become an Independent City, I think 50000 is a right and proper number.

  • Virginia has many counties (and equivalents) relative to its total size.  Virginia ranks #49 in average county (and equivalent) size, by sq mi.  Only Rhode Island has a lower average size.

One must understand that many of the smaller counties are in the Western part of Virginia and are very remote.  Consolidation of counties will not result in any great efficiency, in fact if permitted my guess is it would large urban areas that would consolidate. 

  • 19 states allow some form of recall election for state politicians.  Virginia is not one of them.

Why is this necessary  or needed.

  • 17 states have term limits for their state legislature.  Virginia is not one of those states.

Term limits are a false panacea.  See the problems that have occurred in state which have enacted term limits, I would note that former Senator and Governor George Voinovich went from being a supporter of term limits to a critic because of the detrimental effect it had on legislative experience.

  • 13 states have some form of non-partisan redistricting commission.  Virginia allows the state legislature to draw the district maps.

Concur, Virginia needs to adopt a non-partisan basis for representative districts.  Note, California adopt a non-partisan method as a result it will go from the least competitive state for Congressional races to the most competitive.

On the whole Virginia form of representative democracy serves it well.  There are aspects, which I have indicated that could be improved, but on a whole it serves the Commonwealth well, it balance the rights of the people and needs of the government to be able to govern.  It is sometime messy and raucous, but then again that is the nature of representative democracy.  I am always amazed by reformers, they often spend a lot energy and effort pointing out the faults but do little to make sure the machinery of government works on a daily basis.  Mr. Rippert’s has voiced his concerns and other than his passion has provided no iota of evidence that the current system is failing; in fact his fact is other states do it another way.  That is well and good and I am sure work well there, but things are working just fine, in my humble opinion as they are in Virginia.

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