Government of Virginia: Wikis


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The Virginia State Capitol building, designed by Thomas Jefferson, recently underwent massive renovations.

The government of Virginia combines the three branches of authority in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The current Governor of Virginia is Tim Kaine. Bob McDonnell is Governor-Elect of Virginia. The State Capitol building in Richmond was designed by Thomas Jefferson, and the cornerstone was laid by Governor Patrick Henry in 1785. Virginia currently functions under the 1971 Constitution of Virginia. It is the Commonwealth's seventh constitution. Under the Constitution, the government is composed of three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.



In colonial Virginia, the lower house of the legislature was called the House of Burgesses. Together with the Governor's Council, the House of Burgesses made up the "General Assembly". The Governor's Council was composed of 12 men appointed by the British Monarch to advise the Governor. The Council also served as the "General Court" of the colony, a colonial equivalent of a Supreme Court. Members of the House of Burgesses were chosen by all those who could vote in the colony. Each county chose two people or burgesses to represent it, while the College of William and Mary and the cities of Norfolk, Williamsburg and Jamestown each chose one burgess. The Burgesses met to make laws for the colony and set the direction for its future growth; the Council would then review the laws and either approve or disapprove them. The approval of the Burgesses, the Council, and the governor was needed to pass a law. The idea of electing burgesses was important and new. It gave Virginians a chance to control their own government for the first time. At first, the burgesses were elected by all free men in the colony. Women, indentured servants, and Native Americans could not vote. Later the rules for voting changed, making it necessary for men to own at least fifty acres (200,000 m²) of land in order to vote. Founded in 1619, the Virginia General Assembly is still in existence as the oldest legislature in the New World.

Like many other states, by the 1850s Virginia featured a state legislature, several executive officers, and an independent judiciary. By the time of the Constitution of 1901, which lasted longer than any other state constitution, the General Assembly continued as the legislature, the Supreme Court of Appeals acted as the judiciary, and the eight executive officers were elected: the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of the Commonwealth, State Treasurer, Auditor of Public Accounts, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Immigration. The Constitution of 1901 was amended many times, notably in the 1930s and 1950s, before it was abandoned in favor of more modern government, with fewer elected officials, reformed local governments and a more streamlined judiciary.


Virginia is one of only five states that elects its state officials in odd numbered years (The others are Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Jersey). Virginia holds elections for these offices every 4 years in the years following Presidential election years. Thus, the last year when Virginia elected a Governor was 2009; the next gubernatorial election will occur in 2013, with future gubernatorial elections to take place in 2017, 2021, 2025, etc. Since 1977, Virginia has elected a Governor of the opposite political party compared to the current President of the United States of the time.

Local elections are held at varying times.


Balance of Power

Virginia Government Balance of Power

Office Party in Power Assumed Control Next Election
Governor Democratic (Kaine) January 12, 2002 (Warner) November 3, 2009
Lieutenant Governor Republican (Bolling) January 14, 2006 (Bolling) November 3, 2009
Attorney General Republican (Mims) January, 1994 (Gilmore) November 3, 2009
Virginia Senate Democratic (21/40 seats) January, 2007 (21/40 seats) November 8, 2011
Virginia House of Delegates Republican (53/100 seats) January, 2000 (52/100 seats) November 3, 2009

As of November 4th, 2009, Republicans control 59 seats of the Virginia House of Delegates, and Democrats control 39. Republican Bob McDonnell is the Governor-Elect of Virginia.

Legislative branch

The legislative branch or state legislature is the General Assembly, a bicameral body whose 140 members make all laws of the Commonwealth. Members of the Virginia House of Delegates serve two-year terms, while members of the Virginia Senate serve four-year terms. The General Assembly also selects the Commonwealth's Auditor of Public Accounts. The statutory law enacted by the General Assembly is codified in the Code of Virginia.

Executive branch

The most powerful officials of the executive branch are the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and the Attorney General. They are the only three officials elected statewide. All three officers are separately elected to four-year terms in years following Presidential elections (1997, 2001, 2005, etc) and take office in January of the following year.

The governor serves as chief executive officer of the Commonwealth and as commander-in-chief of its militia. The Constitution does not allow a governor to succeed himself in office (though a governor is allowed to serve multiple non-consecutive terms). The Lieutenant Governor, who is not elected on the same ticket as the governor, serves as president of the Senate of Virginia and is first in the line of succession to the governor. The Lieutenant Governor is allowed to run for reelection. The Attorney General is chief legal advisor to the governor and the General Assembly, chief lawyer of the Commonwealth and the head of the Department of Law. The attorney general is second in the line of succession to the governor. Whenever there is a vacancy in all three executive offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general, then the Speaker of the House of the Virginia House of Delegates becomes governor.

The Office of the Governor's Secretaries helps manage the Governor's Cabinet, composed of the following individuals, all appointed by the governor:

  • Governor's Chief of Staff
  • Secretary of Administration
  • Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry
  • Secretary of Commerce and Trade
  • Secretary of the Commonwealth
  • Secretary of Education
  • Secretary of Finance
  • Secretary of Health and Human Resources
  • Secretary of Natural Resources
  • Secretary of Public Safety
  • Secretary of Technology
  • Secretary of Transportation
  • Assistant to the Governor for Commonwealth Preparedness
  • Counselor to the Governor

Many executive branch agencies have the authority to promulgate regulations. Proposals to create or amend state regulations are often subject to review by the executive branch.

Judicial branch

The judicial branch consists of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the Virginia Court of Appeals, the General District Courts and the Circuit Courts. The Virginia Supreme Court, composed of the chief justice and six other judges is the highest court in the Commonwealth (although, as with all the states, the U.S. Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction over decisions by the Virginia Supreme Court involving substantial questions of U.S. Constitution law or constitutional rights). The Chief Justice and the Virginia Supreme Court also serve as the administrative body for the entire Virginia court system.

Political subdivisions

The political subdivisions of Virginia are the areas into which the state is divided for political and administrative purposes. In Virginia, the political subdivisions have only the legal powers specifically granted to them by the General Assembly and set forth under the Code of Virginia.

Some are local governments; others are not. However, all local governments (cities, counties, and incorporated towns) are political subdivisions of the state. All public school divisions are political subdivisions of the state, although each has local and some controlling relationships of varying types with the counties, cities and/or towns they serve. Some political subdivisions are defined geographically; others by function. Many authorities (such as water, or transportation districts) are created by specific legislation as political subdivisions of the state.

Counties and cities

Every location in Virginia is within a county or an independent city, but never both.

The 95 counties and the 39 independent cities all have their own governments, usually a county board of supervisors or city council which choose a city manager or county administrator to serve as a professional, non-political chief administrator under the council-manager form of government. Many specifics are set forth in "charters", specific legislation adopted by the General Assembly.

There are exceptions to the general structure for counties and cities, notably the City of Richmond, which has a popularly-elected mayor who serves as chief executive separate from the city council, an innovative arrangement which has caused some local turmoil under the first mayor so-elected, former Governor Lawrence D. Wilder. As of November 2007, the courts were in the process of clarifying the duties and powers, and limitations thereupon in response to multiple lawsuits filed by other locally elected officials. [1]

Alcoholic beverage control

Virginia is an alcoholic beverage control state. Distilled spirits, plus wine greater than 14% alcohol by volume, are available for off-premises sale solely in state-owned and operated retail outlets, or on premises in licensed eating establishments governed by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Virginia's ABC Board, as it is known, also licenses off-premises sale of beer and some wines by retailers.

See also



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