2009 Elections / Local / Politics / Virginia

Who is Mike Signer?

ppp_release_va_30302_lgPublic Policy Polling released a poll (pdf) Tuesday that focused on the Democratic candidates for governor. Included in the poll was the question shown on the left, covering the candidates for Lieutenant Governor. The majority of those surveyed – 73% – have not made up their minds in this race. With a margin of error of +/- 3.9%, the race remains pretty much tied.

One of five people to declare interest in being the next LG of Virginia is Mike Signer. I spent a little time with him a couple of weeks ago.

Mike SignerMichael “Mike” Signer, 35, most recently was Director of the Homeland Security Presidential Transition Initiative, a joint project of Third Way and the Center for American Progress. He holds a Ph.D in political science  from U.C., Berkeley, a J.D. from the University of Virginia, and a B.A., from Princeton University.  He is an adjunct instructor at Virginia Tech, and has served as the legislative aide to then-Delegate Creigh Deeds as well as a stint as deputy counselor to then-Governor Mark Warner. A frequent guest on numerous television shows, Signer has written articles covering foreign policy and national security issues (sample here). His articles have appeared in a number of newspapers, including the Washington Post. His book, Demagogue, was published last month by MacMillan. (Interesting discussion about the book here.)

I asked Signer why, with four other candidates in the race, did he decide to run. He told me that he wants to make a difference. He said he didn’t hear anyone articulating a vision for addressing progressive causes and that he wants to transform the LG’s office into something more. He thinks the position should be that of a public advocate.

He also said that he wants to be LG, and not use the position as a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion, a path that many have taken before.

He expressed an “intense frustration” with issues that have held us back: loose campaign finance laws, the Dillon Rule, and the disinfranchisement of felons, among them. He supports nonpartisan redistricting, saying this is “the only way to go.

Since we do not vote a “slate” in Virginia, it is possible to have the three top offices occupied by members of opposite parties. I raised the issue with Signer as to how he would function if the governor was Republican Bob McDonnell. He said that he would still pursue his issues and “chart the course for progressives.”

Signer, like all of the candidates for LG, lacks direct legislative experience. And, of course, the LG position requires presiding over the Senate. When asked about this, Signer said that “working with the legislature is not rocket science,” and that part of the lesson here is tenancity:  staying focused on the issues that are a part of the progressive cause.

I wish I could say that I got a sense of who Mike Signer is, beyond the resume and the talking points. I really didn’t. (Whenever I do these interviews, I go in cold with just a list of questions, much like many voters. I don’t do any research on the candidate until after I have interviewed them.) He is a man in a hurry, something that Waldo Jaquith noted in his 2005 interview. I really wanted to get to more about Mike Signer and less about policy issues, but 30 minutes is simply not enough time to do that.

I did manage to get in one question, though, that I thought would be an easy one: if elected, what, after four years, would you want to be your number one accomplishment? Suprisingly, Signer didn’t have a ready answer. He finally came up with leaving Virginia “with a sense that the office had been used to create fairness.” A lofty goal, no doubt.

This is Mike Signer’s first campaign and he will, no doubt, get better on the campaign trail. With four opponents and just over three months to go before the June 9 primary, he’s got his work cut out for him.

5 thoughts on “Who is Mike Signer?

  1. Like Pat Edmonson, and John Bowerbank, Mike Signer stopped by the Blue Commonwealth meeting before the VA Jefferson-Jackson dinner. I was very impressed by his perspective and passion. He took questions, and responded pretty well.

    With how crowded the race for the nomination is, I sort of wish Signer was running for AG, rather than LG. He says he doesn’t just want to verify the legality of policy, he wants to have a significant hand in shaping it.

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  3. Signer is an ideal person to take this office. I like what I am hearing from him. I completely agree that currently the LG’s office does nothing. What has Bill Bolling been doing? He has that office for 4 years but we do not hear from him. At least Signer has a point about doing something with it.

    I think it is funny you say he is a man in a hurry yet you spent 30 minutes with him.

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