Should Governor Mitt Romney win the presidency in the November election, one of Virginia’s three statewide elected offices could be filled by gubernatorial appointment.
Although Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell was overlooked as Romney’s running mate, the buzz over a McDonnell move to Washington is not over. Rumor is that McDonnell could receive a cabinet position should Romney win the November election. Possible positions include Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Commerce, or even Attorney General.
With no opportunity for McDonnell to run for re-election and his term set to expire in January 2014, why not leave Richmond a little early and head to Washington with President Romney?
This sets the stage for Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling to move into the Governor’s mansion and lead the Commonwealth, a wonderful opportunity for the 2013 gubernatorial candidate who faces opposition within his own party from current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
With Bolling ascending to Governor, this leaves a Lieutenant Governor vacancy at just about the same time the only constitutionally assigned duty of Virginia’s lieutenant governor comes due: preside over the Senate of Virginia. The Lieutenant Governor serves as President of the Senate. However, he has no vote except in the event of a tie. Coincidentally, there are twenty Republicans and twenty Democrats in Virginia’s forty-member Senate.
The Virginia Constitution provides that “in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor, or when he shall exercise the office of Governor, the Senate shall choose from its own body a president pro tempore.” Currently, the president pro tempore is Republican Senator Walter Stosch. Unlike the Lieutenant Governor, because Senator Stosch represents a senatorial district, he is permitted to vote on bills coming before the Senate floor; however, he is not permitted to cast a second vote in the event of a tie.
In a typical year, it would be sufficient for the president pro tempore to preside over the Senate, but with an evenly divided Senate, a tie-breaking vote is necessary to prevent a complete halt in Virginia’s legislative process.
Special election for Lieutenant Governor? No. There is no provision in the Virginia Constitution for a special election of Lieutenant Governor when he assumes the role of Governor.
Gubernatorial Appointment? Yes. Article V, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia states “[t]he Governor shall have power to fill vacancies in all offices of the Commonwealth for the filling of which the Constitution and laws make no other provision. If such office be one filled by the election of the people, the appointee shall hold office until the next general election, and thereafter until his successor qualifies.” There is no other provision for filling a Lieutenant Governor vacancy.
What does this mean? It means that Lieutenant Governor Bolling has the potential to handpick his successor in office.
If Romney wins the presidency, offers Governor McDonnell a cabinet position, which he accepts and resigns as Governor, then Lieutenant Governor Bolling will succeed as Governor. As Governor, Bolling will have the opportunity to appoint anyone he wants to serve as Lieutenant Governor, provided he or she meets the constitutional qualifications.
What is the concern? In Virginia, there are three statewide elected officials: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. The Governor and Lieutenant Governor are separately elected. Therefore, the Governor could be a Republican, while the Lieutenant Governor is a Democrat, or vice versa. If the sitting Governor is permitted to appoint the Lieutenant Governor, there is effectively no chance of this sort of partisan difference between the two officials.
If the Lieutenant Governor vacancy could be filled by special election, Virginia could very well see a Democratic Lieutenant Governor serve alongside Republican Governor Bolling. Considering Virginia’s battleground state status in the 2012 presidential election and the current 50/50, Democrat/Republican split in the Senate of Virginia, a Democratic Lieutenant Governor could be a very real possibility. This scenario would dramatically change legislative outcomes during the 2013 Session of the General Assembly. There would be a Republican-controlled House of Delegates, an evenly divided Senate with the tie-breaking vote cast by the elected Democratic Lieutenant Governor, and a Republican Governor with the power to veto.
The more realistic, and highly probable, scenario: a Republican-controlled House of Delegates, an evenly divided Senate with the tie-breaking vote cast by the appointed Republican Lieutenant Governor, and a Republican Governor.
Here is an example of where a position that is normally elected by voters in a statewide election may be filled by the Governor with anyone he so chooses.
Rather than having Stosch simply preside over the Senate as president pro tempore, perhaps Bolling will appoint him as Lieutenant Governor. This provides two distinct advantages for Bolling and his party.
First, Stosch’s appointment would leave a senatorial vacancy that could be filled through a special election called for by Bolling. It is likely a Republican would be elected in the 12th District, preserving the status quo of the Senate composition: 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats with Republican Stosch casting the tie-breaking vote.
Second, appointment of Stosch by Bolling could help control the Republican ticket for the 2013 statewide elections. The race for Lieutenant Governor has become quite a cluttered field with, among others rumored to run, Former-Senator Jeannemarie Devolites-Davis, Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, Senator Steve Martin, and Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart, but no strong consensus candidate.
However, as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and the legislature’s only CPA, Stosch may best serve the Commonwealth (and his party) in the Senate. Regardless of these scenarios and considerations, if the stars align for Romney and McDonnell, Bolling is free to choose his successor.
The moral of the story is: if you are thirty years of age, have lived and voted in Virginia for the past five years, and aspire to be the next Lieutenant Governor, then befriend Bill Bolling and vote Romney because YOU could be next!