Virginia is a “Dillon Rule” state. This means localities can only exercise powers that are explicitly authorized to them by the state.
The political dynamic in America has changed significantly over the past few decades. The two parties that dominate American politics have redefined what sets them apart, resulting in a more polarized public policy environment. Compromise is not as common as it used to be. In Virginia, the Dillon Rule makes “winner takes all” elections and results in “one size fits all” public policy for the 133 vastly different counties and cities within its borders.
The results of the November 2 election clearly demonstrate that there really are two Virginias. Rural and urban politics, philosophy, beliefs and preferences divide us. It is OK as long as those who govern the Commonwealth, those who are elected to represent us all, recognize these differences.
There is no right or wrong here. Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, evangelical or secular are just different flavors of our society. The Constitution was written to protect those differences and defend all those different flavors as long as they don’t hurt others or take their business. This is the very essence of a free and civil society.
In today’s polarized society, however, both political parties have extreme elements who believe their particular flavor should be forced upon us all, using public policy as their tool. After eight years of Democratic control of the executive branch and its takeover of both houses of the Virginia legislature, rural Virginia has decided “enough” and elected Republican Glenn Youngkin as our next governor. Governors rarely assume office with a statewide mandate. They run on issues that appeal to their base and the moderate independents who actually decide who wins.
John Lydgate said it well: “You can please some people all the time, you can please everyone once in a while, but you can’t please everyone all the time.
The Dillon rule gives the governor and legislature the power to impose policies that please the base that elected them at the expense of those who voted otherwise. It’s time to reform this “one-size-fits-all” approach to government, scrap the Dillon Rule, and establish a domestic regime for Virginia’s widely diverse localities.
Virginians are generally used to tolerating whoever wins until the next election, realizing that incumbents must please enough voters to retain power in the next election. But that patience seems to be lacking these days.
One size does not fit all. In today’s polarized political environment, it is time to bring governance closer to the communities it serves. This allows those who govern to reflect the will of those who elected them while still being aware of the compromises necessary because of those who did not. “Those who haven’t” typically make up almost half of the community they serve.
Prince William County should partner with Fairfax and Loudoun counties and other urban areas to lobby the legislature to move governance to where it belongs, closer to the governed, by implementing autonomy. Some of the more rural counties in the state could sign on, acknowledging that victory is fleeting. It would be their best defense against the upcoming power shift in Virginia.
Al Alborn is an award-winning columnist and member of the Virginia Press Association. His column appears every two weeks. You can find out more about Al at www.alborn.net and LinkedIn.