Wise words from Wilder

Published 9:37 pm Thursday, August 13, 2015

Leave it to Doug Wilder to be the voice of reason in Virginia politics.

The nation’s first African-American governor, who served as the commonwealth’s top elected official from 1990 to 1994, had a few choice words for Virginia’s current governor, fellow Democrat Terry McAuliffe, during an interview with the Washington Post this week, and his comments prove he still has a better grasp of the concept of consensus-building 25 years after leaving office than the man who now occupies the office Wilder once held.

The Washington Post story covers the continuing fracas surrounding McAuliffe’s appointment of Fairfax Circuit Court judge Jane Marum Roush to a vacant Virginia Supreme Court seat in July and Republican legislators’ promise to vacate the appointment and replace her when they go into a special redistricting session next week.

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McAuliffe was acting within his rights as governor when he made the appointment in July. Under Virginia law, governors can fill judicial vacancies when the legislature is not in session. But it is normally one of the functions of the General Assembly to appoint judges, and when a governor makes a recess appointment, the law stipulates that the appointment expires 30 days after the legislature reconvenes.

If GOP legislators carry through on their promise to remove Roush from her seat, it will be the first time in more than 100 years that such an action has taken place in Virginia. But that fact says less about Republican legislators than about the Democratic governor who ignored all existing protocol by making a judicial appointment without consulting the first with the legislators charged with that duty.

Now, as those legislators are pledging to remove the governor’s pick and install their own on the Supreme Court, McAuliffe and the Virginia Democratic Party are crying foul and attempting to gain traction with the accusation that Republican legislative leaders are opposed to having a woman on the bench. The move to unseat Roush, the state’s Democratic Party said in a press release this week, is the “latest front in (Republicans’) war on women.”

It’s an accusation rooted in political grandstanding, and it diminishes the qualifications of Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr., the Republicans’ choice for the seat on the high court.

Such accusations are also, as Wilder stated in his interview with the Washington Post, counterproductive to good government.

“You’re not going to brow-beat [Republicans] into doing anything by calling them names,” the Post quoted Wilder as saying. “That’s absolutely silly. It’s not an issue as to whether a woman is on the bench. The issue is whether you observed the protocol. And you didn’t. That’s all there is to it.”

Those are wise words from a man who was known for his ability to achieve consensus from those in both political parties. Virginia’s current governor, who likes to portray himself in that same mold, would do well to heed them.