Sunday, September 6, 2009

Frank Atkinson on the 2009 Gubernatorial Election

Frank B. Atkinson, author of two books on Virginia politics and an attorney at McGuire Woods, has an insightful piece in this morning's Washington Post about the state of the Virginia gubernatorial election between Democrat Creigh Deeds and Republican Bob McDonnell. You can link to the piece here.

Atkinson argues that Virginians have demonstrated considerable political independence in the past several decades by electing a governor from the opposite party of the President elected nationally the prior year (for example: Reagan in '80 then Chuck Robb in '81; Clinton in '92 then George Allen in '93; Bush in '00 then Mark Warner in '01).

Atkinson says that Virginians' repeated decision to balance a President from one party with a governor from the other (even when a majority in the state had voted for the President the prior year, as with George W. Bush in 2000) is a reflection of our commitment to the Madisonian principle of checks and balances:

Independent voters pay some attention to party labels, but they dislike partisan preoccupations and bickering. In Virginia, independents are especially wary of the concentration of political power. Heirs to the Madisonian tradition of checks and balances, they regard divided government as a virtue because it guards against excess.
Atkinson believes that Virginians' tendency toward balanced government bodes well for Bob McDonnell in this fall's election -- particularly as some Virginia independents who voted for President Obama may be wary of the ambitiousness of the agenda he's pursued since his election:

[Virginia's ] independents see one clearly dominant party in Washington pursuing an aggressive agenda in areas from health care and energy to labor and economic policy. Centrist, cautious and libertarian-leaning, these swing voters find ample cause for worry in national leadership that seems left-of-center and bent on bigger government. They also don't care much for the current tone, which bears little resemblance to the conciliatory talk that made Obama so appealing to them last fall.