Russ Potts, Headhunter, or, What’s Warner Doing?

I thought the boys at Road to Ruin might jump on this, but since they haven’t, I’ll take a crack at an Augusta Free Press report that Gov. Warner wants to fill the VDOT Commissioner job quickly–and involve the gubernatorial candidates in the selection process:

Warner proposed getting the three candidates for governor – Democrat Tim Kaine, Republican Jerry Kilgore and independent Russ Potts – to be part of a selection process that he would like to see get going “sooner rather than later.”

“I’d love to have all the candidates for governor be a part of a selection process. But that would require the consent of all three candidates for governor,” Warner said.

To date, the governor has but one taker – Potts.

On the surface, this seems like a terrific idea to fix a problem that was ironically caused by the guy who fixed a lot of problems–Shucet. It’s hard to fathom why he couldn’t have hung on until November, at least.

Looking more closely, suspicions abound. Why would Warner make this public? Why wouldn’t he quietly contact each candidate, get their answer, promise confidentiality, and then just go ahead with the recruiting and selection process if all agreed? Why would Potts, the least likely to be elected, get to make public his answer first? Potts has nothing to lose and plenty of credibility to gain by cozying up to Warner on this–why is Warner giving him this free statesman makeover? Why does the Kilgore spokesperson say they are “going to wait until we hear from the governor before we address that issue?” Did Warner contact Kilgore or not? Why does the Kaine campaign give some mumbo-jumbo about being committed to a “process?”

Further, what’s wrong with the interim guy at VDOT, supposedly carrying out Shucet’s policies? I can’t imagine a candidate for the job taking it, not knowing if his boss would be Kaine, Kilgore, or Russ Potts, and not knowing if one of the three could torpedo him during the “process?”

These are some strange machinations and I’d like to hear any theories.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    All very good questions. I had the same ones go through my mind when I read the article earlier.

    All I can suppose is that Warner believes the common logic that Potts is in this only to take votes away from Kilgore to elect Kaine. Something I was 100% sure of until Potts recently made several pronouncements that have shown his philosophy trek has continued from the liberal-Republican wing to the flat-earth wing of the liberal-Democrat establishment.

    If the former is Warner’s thinking, I wonder if this is also a campaign screw-up on the Kaine side. It seems to me this was another soft-ball for Kaine a’la the debate issue. If Kaine had agreed and by some amount of lunacy Kilgore went along with it as well, Warner would have two voices who tend to agree with his view of the world on the committee, and who could do all kinds of PR work against Kilgore as well as gang-up on him 2 against three for nominees (Can you say triangulation? Something Warner and Potts know very well.).

    Warner owes Potts big time for his help on the tax increase in 2004 and I’m sure that is why he has extended this olive branch of support. In fact, I was thinking a position like this might be offered to Potts if Kaine were to win in the fall.

  2. Alternate theory:

    Warner is continuing to try to boost his image as a nonpartisan “above politics” figure by appealing to both parties (and independents) for advice on a future appointment.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Permit me to intrude upon these political speculations to point out a very substantive policy issue. The transformation of VDOT initiated by Philip Shucet is not complete. I spell out some of the details in the bottom third of my current column, “The Maintenance Mantra,” based on an interview with Shucet last week.

    In Shucet’s view, his major accomplishment during this three+ years at VDOT was installing management systems to improve VDOT’s track record of bringing in construction projects on time and on budget. But that was only the first step: The bulk of VDOT spending doesn’t go to new construction — it goes to maintenance. The next challenge is to put new systems into place at VDOT to do a better job of managing maintenance. The savings could be enormous — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

    The new VDOT commissioner needs to be someone who is willing and capable of building on Shucet’s vision of transforming VDOT management. I can’t think of anything other qualification that would be more important. If there’s one thing that all three candidates should be able to agree upon, it is this.

  4. Not Mark Rozell Avatar
    Not Mark Rozell

    Permit me to respond to anonymous, who referred to the non-existent “Flat Earth” wing of the Democratic party. There is no such animal. Let me set this person straight:

    Right-wing GOP = Flat Earth
    Left-wing Dem = Mother Earth

    Please get your terms right, people.

  5. TheModerate Avatar

    This is certainly an interesting political maneuver by Gov. Warner.

    I agree with Paul, but would like to add that the Governor is trying to enhance the importance of the position and the critical role it will play in the next administration.

    If he has the candidate’s focus on picking a successor that ultimately means voters will focus on that person/position. Forget the “selection process” rubbish, that’s simply the Governor being Gubernatorial.

    It’s almost like the candidates get to pick a running mate in a sense.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    The Augusta Free Press is a bit more reliable than its most famous Blue Contributor, but I’m not sure this wasn’t just some ruminations that got elevated to news. Neither Kaine nor Kilgore will agree to consult on a selection and then promise that person a job post-election. Kilgore’s core voters would be incensed, and Kaine doesn’t need to be playing second fiddle to Warner any more. VDOT will have a caretaker, as is quite common this late in an administration. It points to another issue, the need for to allow Governors to seek a second term, but even if Warner were on the ballot he’d have a hard time getting a strong candidate to sign on for a potential five-month run. Much ado about nada, folks. Next.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Anon. 8:21 I still fail to see why he did it then? Why ruminate in such a way?

    NMR: I think I can live with your definition of Left-wing Dem with a slight change. Instead of “Mother Earth” perhaps instead “Earth Goddess Gaya”.

  8. Salt Lick Avatar
    Salt Lick

    Clearly, Will, the governor must move quickly, as the road situation has become critical. So bad, in fact, that today he is having to fly a helicopter into Floyd, possibly to discuss augmenting the county’s lone stop light.

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