What About Bob?

Bob McDonnell is trying to kick start his political future.

There he is writing the lead story on the op-ed page of the conservative-friendly Wall Street Journal June 25 touting his 18-month-old administration as a shining example of what he and several other news Republican governors can do.

He’s off at the Paris Air Show as part of the state’s efforts to promote Virginia’s new-found and cozy relationship with jet engine maker Rolls Royce.

Then, he’ll turn up at Vail for a schmooze-fest with the hard-right’s king-making Koch Brothers where he will undoubtedly received more marching orders that maybe, just maybe, could put photogenic Bob on the GOP’s vice presidential ticket in 2012.

McDonnell is trying to project himself as a responsible conservative who takes an axe to spending and comes up with budget surpluses, and if you believe Bob, fellow GOP governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan and Florida, are doing the same.”When I became governor of Virginia in January 2010 we faced two historic budget shortfalls totaling $6 billion. The proposals to close
these shortfalls spanned the philosophical spectrum. Shortly before leaving office, my predecessor, outgoing Democratic governor Tim Kaine, put forward a massive $1.8 billion income-tax hike as one of his solutions,” McDonnell writes.

McDonnell says he cut state spending back to 2006 levels, put in place a hiring freeze on state workers and took other steps (more later) that gave the state a nearly instant surplus. McDonnell also casts himself as the “jobs” governor, having created 67,400 new jobs, or sop he says.

A few problems there. PolitiFact, the fact-checking agency begun by the St. Petersburg Times, reports that McDonnell’s claim of cutting $6 billion from the budget is “barely true.” McDonnell ignores $1.9 billion in one-time stimulus money from (dare we say it) the Obama Administration. He keeps implying that the $6 billion deficit was solved under his watch, but Politifact reports that “Kaine, McDonnell and the General Assembly all share credit for closing the $6 billion gap. It’s impossible to precisely establish how much the shortfall as solved under Kaine or McDonnell.”

Other points McDonnell conveniently leaves out are that Virginia was slammed by a bad loss of state tax revenues with the worst recession since World War II and that is not the fault of the Democrats or Kaine. He doesn’t note that Virginia’s proximity to Washington and federal jobs is one reason the state’s unemployment figure is relatively healthy. It has nothing to do with Bob. And, let’s not forget,in his first year, McDonnell played numbers games by deferring state pension payments to make the surplus look bigger than it really was.

Other news about McDonnell is curious. The Washington Post reports that McDonnell’s office is undergoing a big shift as top aides leave. Chief among them is Eric Finkbeiner who will return to McGuire Woods Consulting, the lobby shop that is McDonnell’s shadow government. Aide
Mike Reynold is gone, too. These follow some earlier departures of other lieutenants.

While McDonnell has had some successes, thanks to Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton, in selling $2.9 billion in road bonds, his plans to sell off state-owned ABC stores was DOA. According to the Post, the governor’s office is plagued with unreturned phone calls,
little communication and few tips on what steps McDonnell intends. His modus operandi has seriously annoyed fellow Republicans, especially legislators.

One wonders what the aide switch will mean. Is the active phase of McDonnell’s one-term now over? Will the rest of his time be spent positioning himself for the vice presidential slot? Is 18 months all Virginia voters will get of Bob?

Peter Galuszka

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