In the race for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, moderate Republican Jerry Kilgore is pitted against moderate Democrat Tim Kaine and independent candidate Russ Potts (a Republican running without party support). A strange clause in the Constitution of Virginia which prohibits consecutive terms for governors frees incumbent Governor Mark Warner (D) to pursue his supposed 2008 presidential ambitions.
Researching the candidates in an attempt to decide which would earn my support in the upcoming election, I quickly discovered that neither Kilgore, Kaine, nor Potts seems to be offering much for the Commonwealth. Potts’s inconsistent record and breezy willingness to consider unnecessary tax hikes to fund transportation initiatives makes his campaign a complete non-starter for me (and, apparently, for most Virginians as well). Meanwhile, Kilgore and Kaine—the only real options—seem to share largely the same platform and offer largely the same lackluster plans to address the core problems affecting Virginia.
There are two issues that are of paramount importance for the economic and social well-being of the Commonwealth of Virginia today (and all of the candidates agree, to some extent, on what they are). The first is education: Local school systems suck up more and more government funding and the state universities continually hike tuition while each provides less and less for their students. The second is transportation: Urban areas of the state are mired in endless, worsening gridlock and Richmond has not fulfilled its responsibility to improve our mass-transit infrastructure or our roads.
After careful consideration of the candidates’ stances on these and other issues, I reluctantly concede that I can make no endorsement. No candidate for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia offers compelling or sufficient solutions for the problems affecting the state.
Kilgore and Kaine each say that education is among their top priorities, but I see no evidence to back it up. Regarding K-12 education, both intend to recruit and retain more teachers, increase teacher salary, and increase funding for public schools. Neither addresses the core problem: our system of public schooling in Virginia—like most sytems in the United States—is no longer capable of providing a sufficient education for a modern work force in a modern economy. Hiring teachers into and throwing money at a broken system will not fix it. We need a major reform of the entire public education process (from structure to cirriculum to funding and beyond). Neither candidate seems to recognize the magnitude of the problem, let alone offer useful solutions.
Their respective platforms on higher education, while at least different from one another, are equally disappointing. Kilgore plans additional scholarship programs and creating partnerships between four-year colleges and rural community colleges. Kaine proposes little more than creating a new state college in south-side Virginia and scholarships for community service. Neither plan will make significant improvements to the quality or the cost of higher education in Virginia.
Transportation is also cited as a central issue to both campaigns, and the candidates do slightly better here than with education. Kilgore and Kaine each call for a long-overdue amendment to the Constitution of Virginia which would keep money in the Transportation Trust Fund from being diverted for other uses. Both call for greater use of money-saving public-private partnerships for transportation projects. Both call for crackdowns on dangerous drivers (Kaine focusing on drunk drivers, Kilgore on aggressive ones). Kaine seems to lend greater support to improving mass-transit in the state and increasing accountability at the Virginia Dept. of Transportation (VDOT). Kilgore, on the other hand, would push for regional transportation authorities to increase local autonomy on transportation issues.
These are all good ideas, but neither candidate brings a full package of transportation proposals to the table. Neither addresses the per-capita disparity between road construction expenditures in rural regions as compared to the urban areas like Northern Virginia that need transportation dollars the most. Neither addresses necessary changes to the driver licensure program that would help keep incompetent and dangerous drivers off the road. Neither proposes reductions in either the gas tax (17.5¢/gallon) or the patently unfair and duplicative car tax (which Governor Gilmore [R] promised to eliminate in his successful 1997 campaign—thanks Jim!).
Outside of these issues there are worthwhile proposals here and there between the two candidates. Kilgore calls for the creation of a Virginia Government Accountability Commission which would act as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our tax dollars are well spent. Kaine supports ‘truth in budgeting’ reforms that would ensure Virginia’s legislature only creates programs that it can (and will) fund sufficiently. Kilgore would require that tax hikes be supported by a statewide voter referendum (with exceptions for fiscal emergencies). Kaine would continue management reforms started during Governor Warner’s tenure and attempt to amend the Constitution of Virginia to allow a two-term governor (Virginia is the only state that prohibits it). Both candidates have reasonable, moderately-conservative political views on issues like abortion, the right to bear arms, and health care.
But these occasional nuggets of greatness merely punctuate two platforms that seem to be based on half-measures and fluff. The voters of Virginia deserve real solutions to the problems we face every day, and no gubernatorial candidate is offering them. The choice between Jerry Kilgore and Tim Kaine is no choice at all, and I suspect most voters (myself included) will cast their ballots based more on the little (R) or (D) next to each name than on the disappointingly vacuous content of either candidate’s campaign.