KIMELMAN: Virginia needs recall elections

With no way to recall their Executive Branch, Virginia Voters have to deal with ineffective and morally bankrupt leadership that they didn’t know they were voting for

dizon-op-kimelman

If they had be truthful with Virginia voters and still been elected to these statewide positions, the situation would be different, but as it stands they deliberately misinformed the electorate. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

The past two months in Virginia politics have left the fate of the Commonwealth in very uncertain hands. With Gov. Ralph Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring all engulfed in scandals, their ability to effectively lead the Commonwealth going forward has evaporated. All three have faced bipartisan calls for resignation or investigation, and in the face of much adversary, all three have resisted these calls. 

Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox, who is the next in line if all three Democrats were to resign or be removed from office, expressed the General Assembly’s hesitation to begin impeachment proceedings by stating, “you have to consider that to some degree you're overturning an election." Speaker Cox is exactly right in this regard, but at the same time, it is also impossible to know how Virginians would have voted in 2017 had they known about these controversies. The way to solve this seeming discrepancy is to amend the Virginia Code or Constitution to clearly highlight a process by which recall elections can be held in the Commonwealth.

The need for recall elections is first seen by the fact that these controversies have already impacted the executive branch’s ability to lead the Commonwealth, both in moral terms and in effective governance. Both Northam and Herring have admitted that by wearing blackface, they took an incredibly racist action that they are now deeply sorry for. At the same time, neither found it relevant to talk about their past actions until confronted with evidence. Both have run statewide campaigns not only supposedly built on values of equality and inclusion, but then-candidate Northam went as far as to call his opponent’s rhetoric “racist” and “fear mongering.” Both campaigns made fighting racism and bigotry central to their message, while at the same time concealing from the voters of Virginia that they had themselves committed deeply and offensive actions. If they had be truthful with Virginia voters and still been elected to these statewide positions, the situation would be different, but as it stands, they deliberately misinformed the electorate. 

While we still need to hear more from Fairfax’s accusers — both of whom are have accepted invitations to testify before the House — if either one the sexual assault claims against him is corroborated or proven, he too would lack the moral authority to lead. Not only have these executive branch members deceived the electorate, but they also have shown that they can not effectively govern the Commonwealth because of these scandals. 

Another example that highlights these individuals' inability to lead can be demonstrated by this year’s state budget, in which the Governor negotiated with Republican Leadership during the height of his scandal revolving around his racist yearbook photo. Due to this scandal, Northam lacked the leverage to defend his positions and caved on nearly all of his priorities, and the final budget compromise “[did] not include any of the spending that Northam proposed in the budget plan he introduced in December.” As a Republican, I personally am happy that the budget that is much closer to what Speaker Cox proposed than what the Governor proposed, but in the long run, the Commonwealth needs a Governor who won’t cave on negotiations in order to change the media cycle. The Governor’s inability to govern has caused him to be disinvited from speaking at multiple events and has led to fierce criticism of those accepting his appointments. The Governor, along with the Lt. Governor and Attorney General, have avoided public appearances since early February, and none of the three will be able to represent the Commonwealth they way they could have two months ago. 

Despite their lack of moral authority and effective governance, there is no way to currently remove these members of the executive branch from office if impeachment is off the table. While Virginia Code 24.2-233 provides guidelines for recall elections the local level, there are no such provisions existing for statewide officials. Given this lack of a clarity, it is crucial that the General Assembly amend the Virginia Code or Constitution to codify a process for recall elections to occur for statewide officials, giving Virginia voters the power to act in situations such as the one they are in right now.  

While the Legislative Session just ended, it would still be possible for the General Assembly to call a special session where they could debate and pass specific criteria for recall elections. Both Republicans and Democrats should have the opportunity to nominate their candidates to lead the Commonwealth, and Virginia voters should have the opportunity to choose their executive branch in light of these recent embarrassments. If Virginia voters choose Northam, Fairfax and Herring again in spite of these scandals, they can claim that they still have the authority to hold office. But voters should not be simply conned into electing officials who withheld crucial information about their past in order to gain elected office, and they deserve the chance to elect more suitable leadership for the Commonwealth.  

Adam Kimelman is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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