The Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia serves as the chief executive of the Commonwealth of Virginia for a four-year term. The current holder of the office is Democrat Ralph Northam, who was sworn in on January 13, 2018.
Candidates for governor must be United States citizens who have resided in Virginia and been a registered voter for five years prior to the election in which they are running. The candidates must be at least 30 years of age.
Unlike other state governors, Virginia governors are not allowed to serve consecutive terms. To get on the ballot for Governor of Virginia, each candidate must file 10 000 signatures, including the signatures of at least 400 qualified voters from each 11 congressional districts in the Commonwealth.
The Governor of Virginia is addressed as “The Honorable”, but may occasionally be referred to as “Excellency” if ceremonially appropriate.
The governor is the head of government in Virginia. At the beginning of every regular session, they must report the state of the Commonwealth to the Virginia General Assembly (both the House of Delegates and the Senate). They must convene the legislature when two-thirds of each house calls for a special session. The governor must ensure that the laws of the Commonwealth are faithfully executed by either signing, or allowing it to come into law, or vetoing, not allowing it to become law. They are responsible for the safety of the state, as they serve as commander-in-chief of the Virginia Militia.
- The governor has the legislative power to submit recommendations and to call special sessions when he finds them necessary.
- The governor has veto powers. All bills must be sent to the governor before becoming law. The governor may sign the bill, let it sit unsigned for seven days, after which it becomes law, or veto the legislation. After a veto, the bill returns to its house of origin and may be overridden by two-thirds of the vote in each house.
- The governor also has the power to use a line-item veto. He may send legislation back to the legislature with recommendations and amendments. The legislature must either approve the changes by a majority in each house or override the veto with a two-thirds majority in each house.
- The governor is commander-in-chief of Virginia’s militia forces.
- The governor may also communicate with other states and foreign powers.
- The governor has the power to fill vacancies in positions unless the position is appointed by the legislature.
- The governor may commute fines or sentences and issue pardons. The governor may also restore voting rights and overturn other political penalties on individuals.
The position of Governor of Virginia dates back to the 1607 first permanent English settlement in America, at Jamestown on the north shore of the James River upstream from Hampton Roads harbor at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The Virginia Company of London set up a government run by a council. The president of the council basically served as a governor. The council was based in London and controlled the colony from afar. Nominally, Thomas Smith was the first president of the council, but he never left England. Edward Maria Wingfield was the first president of the council in residence in the new province, making him the first to exercise the actual authority of governing Virginia. The Virginia Company soon abandoned governance by council two years after the landing on May 23, 1609, and replacing it with a governor, the famous and dynamic leader, John Smith (1580-1631).
In 1624, the English Monarchy of King James I (1566-1625, reigned 1603-1625), in the last year of his reign, of the royal House of Stuart took control from the Virginia Company and its stockholders and made Virginia a crown colony. Governors continued to be appointed by the monarch for many years. Most often, the appointed governor would reside in England while a deputy or lieutenant governor actually exercised authority. Royal rule was interrupted during the English Civil War (1642-46 / 1648-49), after which governors were appointed by the Protectorate under Richard Cromwell (successor to Oliver Cromwell) in the interim Commonwealth of England until the English Restoration of the monarchy with King Charles II in 1660.
Virginia became an independent sovereign state and Commonwealth during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), with Patrick Henry(1736-1799, served 1776-79 / 1786-89) as its first governor (and also later sixth). From the Revolution until 1851, the governor was elected by the General Assembly of Virginia (commonwealth/state legislature). After 1851, in a democratic trend spreading across the Union, the state turned to popular elections for office holders.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), Francis Harrison Pierpont was the governor of the Union-controlled parts of the state, later of which emerged the new state in the northwest of West Virginia. Pierpont also served as one of the provisional governors during the post-war Reconstruction era. These governors were appointed by the Federal government of the President and U.S. Congress, both controlled by Radical Republicans for a decade. In 1874, Virginia regained its right to self-governance and elected James L. Kemper (1823-1895), a Democrat and temporary Conservative Party member and former Confederate general as governor. After the Radical Republican appointees of the post-war Reconstruction era, Virginia would not actually elect another regular Republican as governor until A. Linwood Holton Jr. in 1969. However, in 1881 William E. Cameron was elected governor under the banner of the Readjuster Party, a coalition of Republicans and populist Democrats. Douglas Wilder became the first elected and only the second African American Governor of any U.S. state. He served as governor from 1990 to 1994.
Since 1851, Virginia’s gubernatorial elections have been held in “off-years”—years in which there are no national (presidential, senatorial, or House) elections; Virginia’s gubernatorial elections are held one year after U.S. presidential elections (2001, 2005, 2009, etc.) (Most states hold gubernatorial elections either on presidential-election years or midterm-election years, when there are congressional elections.) In every Virginia gubernatorial election starting with 1977, the governor elected had been from the opposite party as the president elected by the nation in the previous year, even when Virginia had voted for the president in office, as with Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. The only exception being in 2013 with the election of Democrat Terry McAuliffe, following the re-election of President Obama in 2012.
Tim Kaine was inaugurated on January 14, 2006. Due to renovations on the Capitol in Richmond, his inauguration was held in Williamsburg, making him the first governor to be inaugurated in Williamsburg since Thomas Jefferson in 1779. The current governor of Virginia is Ralph Northam, who was inaugurated on January 13, 2018.
List of Governors
|#||Picture||Governor||Took office||Left office|
|1||Patrick Henry||July 5, 1776||June 1, 1779|
|2||Thomas Jefferson||June 1, 1779||June 3, 1781|
|3||William Fleming||June 3, 1781||June 12, 1781|
|4||Thomas Nelson, Jr.||June 12, 1781||November 22, 1781|
|–||David Jameson||November 22, 1781||December 1, 1781|
|5||Benjamin Harrison V||December 1, 1781||December 1, 1784|
|6||Patrick Henry||December 1, 1784||December 1, 1786|
|7||Edmund Randolph||December 1, 1786||December 1, 1788|
|8||Beverley Randolph||December 1, 1788||December 1, 1791|
|9||Henry Lee III||December 1, 1791||December 1, 1794|
|10||Robert Brooke||December 1, 1794||December 1, 1796|
|11||James Wood||December 1, 1796||December 1, 1799|
|–||Hardin Burnley||December 7, 1799||December 11, 1799|
|–||John Pendleton, Jr.||December 11, 1799||December 19, 1799|
|12||James Monroe||December 19, 1799||December 1, 1802|
|13||John Page||December 1, 1802||December 7, 1805|
|14||William H. Cabell||December 7, 1805||December 1, 1808|
|15||John Tyler, Sr.||December 1, 1808||January 15, 1811|
|—||George William Smith||January 15, 1811||January 19, 1811|
|16||James Monroe||January 19, 1811||April 3, 1811|
|17||George William Smith||April 3, 1811||December 26, 1811|
|N/A||Peyton Randolph||December 27, 1811||January 3, 1812|
|18||James Barbour||January 3, 1812||December 1, 1814|
|19||Wilson Cary Nicholas||December 1, 1814||December 1, 1816|
|20||James Patton Preston||December 1, 1816||December 1, 1819|
|21||Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr.||December 1, 1819||December 1, 1822|
|22||James Pleasants||December 1, 1822||December 10, 1825|
|23||John Tyler||December 10, 1825||March 4, 1827|
|24||William Branch Giles||March 4, 1827||March 4, 1830|
|25||John Floyd||March 4, 1830||March 31, 1834|
|26||Littleton Waller Tazewell||March 31, 1834||April 30, 1836|
|—||Wyndham Robertson||April 30, 1836||March 31, 1837|
|27||David Campbell||March 31, 1837||March 31, 1840|
|28||Thomas Walker Gilmer||March 31, 1840||March 20, 1841|
|—||John M. Patton||March 20, 1841||March 31, 1841|
|—||John Rutherfoord||March 31, 1841||March 31, 1842|
|—||John Munford Gregory||March 31, 1842||January 1, 1843|
|29||James McDowell||January 1, 1843||January 1, 1846|
|30||William Smith||January 1, 1846||January 1, 1849|
|31||John B. Floyd||January 1, 1849||January 16, 1852|
|32||Joseph Johnson||January 16, 1852||January 1, 1856|
|33||Henry A. Wise||January 1, 1856||January 1, 1860|
|34||John Letcher||January 1, 1860||January 1, 1864|
|35||William Smith||January 1, 1864||May 9, 1865|
|—||Francis Harrison Pierpont||May 9, 1865||April 4, 1868|
|—||Henry H. Wells||April 4, 1868||September 21, 1869|
|36||Gilbert Carlton Walker||September 21, 1869||January 1, 1874|
|37||James L. Kemper||January 1, 1874||January 1, 1878|
|38||Frederick W. M. Holliday||January 1, 1878||January 1, 1882|
|39||William E. Cameron||January 1, 1882||January 1, 1886|
|40||Fitzhugh Lee||January 1, 1886||January 1, 1890|
|41||Philip W. McKinney||January 1, 1890||January 1, 1894|
|42||Charles Triplett O’Ferrall||January 1, 1894||January 1, 1898|
|43||James Hoge Tyler||January 1, 1898||January 1, 1902|
|44||Andrew Jackson Montague||January 1, 1902||February 1, 1906|
|45||Claude A. Swanson||February 1, 1906||February 10, 1910|
|46||William Hodges Mann||February 10, 1910||February 1, 1914|
|47||Henry Carter Stuart||February 1, 1914||February 1, 1918|
|48||Westmoreland Davis||February 1, 1918||February 1, 1922|
|49||Elbert Lee Trinkle||February 1, 1922||February 1, 1926|
|50||Harry F. Byrd||February 1, 1926||January 15, 1930|
|51||John Garland Pollard||January 15, 1930||January 17, 1934|
|52||George C. Peery||January 17, 1934||January 15, 1938|
|53||James H. Price||January 15, 1938||January 21, 1942|
|54||Colgate Darden||January 21, 1942||January 16, 1946|
|55||William M. Tuck||January 16, 1946||January 18, 1950|
|56||John S. Battle||January 18, 1950||January 20, 1954|
|57||Thomas B. Stanley||January 20, 1954||January 11, 1958|
|58||J. Lindsay Almond||January 11, 1958||January 13, 1962|
|59||Albertis Harrison||January 13, 1962||January 15, 1966|
|60||Mills Godwin||January 15, 1966||January 17, 1970|
|61||Linwood Holton||January 17, 1970||January 12, 1974|
|62||Mills Godwin||January 12, 1974||January 14, 1978|
|63||John Dalton||January 14, 1978||January 16, 1982|
|64||Chuck Robb||January 16, 1982||January 18, 1986|
|65||Gerald Baliles||January 18, 1986||January 13, 1990|
|66||Douglas Wilder||January 13, 1990||January 15, 1994|
|67||George Allen||January 15, 1994||January 17, 1998|
|68||Jim Gilmore||January 17, 1998||January 12, 2002|
|69||Mark Warner||January 12, 2002||January 14, 2006|
|70||Tim Kaine||January 14, 2006||January 16, 2010|
|71||Bob McDonnell||January 16, 2010||January 11, 2014|
|72||Terry McAuliffe||January 11, 2014||January 13, 2018|
|73||Ralph Northam||January 13, 2018||Incumbent|
A. Linwood Holton, Jr.
served 1970–1974 born September 21, 1923 (age 95)
served 1982–1986 born June 26, 1939 (age 79)
served 1986–1990 born July 8, 1940 (age 78)
served 1990–1994 born January 17, 1931 (age 87)
served 1994–1998 born March 8, 1952 (age 66)
served 1998–2002 born October 6, 1949 (age 69)
served 2002–2006 born December 15, 1954 (age 64)
served 2006–2010 born February 26, 1958 (age 60)
served 2010–2014 born June 15, 1954 (age 64)
served 2014–2018 born February 9, 1957 (age 61)
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