Bob McDonnell: The Gov Who Governed

November 10th, 2011 at 9:01 am | 21 Comments |

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More than a few liberal commentators will celebrate the supposed “shellacking” that the Republicans got in the elections on Tuesday. And, viagra certainly, on two major issues–government union power (in Ohio) and abortion (in Mississippi)–the voters sided with the political Left.

But, in one of the “purple” states that President Obama will probably need to carry to be elected, Virginia, voters handed the state Senate to Republicans.

(Even if a still outstanding election gets decided in favor of Democrats, Republicans will still control the Senate with the Lieutenant Governor breaking ties.)

Obviously, a lot of things differed from state to state and pundits will parse the differences at great length. But one thing stands out: Virginia Republicans, unlike those in Ohio and Mississippi, focused on bread and butter governance issues rather than hot button issues that please the base.

Take the man at the top, Governor Bob McDonnell, as an example. While he passes every conservative litmus test, he also has a lot of time on the nitty gritty of governing. He has continued big-ticket infrastructure projects around the state that his two Democratic predecessors championed, seen unemployment fall on his watch, worked to improve college savings plans, set the stage for several more major infrastructure projects, balanced the budget without using any major gimmicks (yeah, he underfunded pensions), and maintained the state’s AAA bond rating.

Even things that seemed like pipedreams—tolling federally built interstates to get more money for infrastructure investment—have come to pass under his administration.

Not everything he wants has become law—a plan to sell off state-owned liquor stores stalled—but even these plans were, at least, genuine efforts to confront the state’s problems. This ability to actually govern certainly helped Republican candidates all over the state. And it offers a good model for conservatives who actually want to win elections.

Recent Posts by Eli Lehrer

21 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    Heavy sigh. Underfunding pensions is indeed an accounting gimmick, and simply saying “oh no its not” doesn’t change that fact. The gap is, I believe, $18 billion, and rising.

    • Anonne

      +1. The same old accounting trick is just waiting to become a perfect storm. Republicans must love being lied to, that you can do it all without raising taxes.

  • dante

    Uh, you might want to correct your article. If the Republicans *win* the current close election, the Senate will be split 20/20 (with the Lt Governor casting the deciding vote). If they *lose*, the Democrats will still control the body.

    Republican control of the Senate would complete a GOP sweep of state government that began in 2009, giving the party a 20-20 tie in the General Assembly’s upper chamber, with GOP Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting tie-breaking votes as needed.

  • ottovbvs

    Lehrer believes the results in VA were a resounding endorsement of the Republicans? ok.

    • Graychin

      He takes his comfort where he can find it. On Tuesday night, he couldn’t find much.

  • CautiousProgressive

    What I like about Bob McDonnel (being that I lean a bit left-wing) is that he is a sane, rational conservative. He makes me feel that my interests will be served, even though he might not have been my preferred choice.

    In short, he represents unity as opposed to divisiveness.

    • kccd

      Bob McDonnell is a conservative and a Republican.

      He signed an executive order against discrimination that specifically excluded gays from protection.

      He declared Confederate History Month, but his proclamation failed to mention slaves.

      He refused to commute the death sentence of a mentally retarded woman who was then executed.

      He supports Virginia’s legal challenge to “Obamacare”.

  • Frumplestiltskin

    “Virginia Republicans, unlike those in Ohio and Mississippi, focused on bread and butter governance issues rather than hot button issues that please the base.”

    Eli, Eli, Eli, don’t you get it? This is precisely the worst thing for him. Before the nutty social issue bills never got to his desk, parliamentary procedure notwithstanding (in an evenly divided Senate a lot of bills can get bottled up in committee) if anti-gay rights bills or anti-abortion bills make it to his desk, he has to sign it.

    Divided government worked wonders for him as it prevented Republican overreach, Republican overreach proved disastrous in the rest of the country, therefore Eli is now celebrating the opportunity for Republican overreach in Va. why exactly?

    If Republicans overreach and an far right bill gets passed, that will be gold for Obama.

  • armstp

    Bob McDonnell should be kissing Obama ass, as Virginia has massively benefited from Federal government programs like the Stimulus. Given the stabilizing impact of the Federal government, the State has been far better off than most others.

    “balanced the budget without using any major gimmicks (yeah, he underfunded pensions)”

    Just like Christie in NJ, McDonnell has done nothing but use accounting tricks and missing payments to the state pension funds to balance the budget. All he has done is kick the can down the road.

    The Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial Board commented on this issue saying:

    “The McDonnell administration and Republican legislators boast about having balanced the budget without raising taxes. But that’s hardly something to brag about when they’re running up the state credit card and raiding the cupboards of future retirees.”

    McConnell’s surplus was entirely the result of $2.7 bn in federal stimulus funds and differing $620 million of pension payments.

    In 2010 Virginia got $2.7 bn from Obama’s stimulus bill and has since received in total $4.3 bn.

    From the conservative WSJ:

    “Here’s something you don’t see often these days: a government running a budget surplus. Governor Robert McDonnell announced last week that Virginia closed fiscal 2010 some $400 million in the black. That’s a radically improved financial picture from a year ago when the state faced a $4.2 billion two-year budget hole.

    It’s true that Richmond used too many budget tricks to make the surplus appear larger than it really is. Sales tax payments were accelerated by one month to count in 2010 rather than 2011. Several hundred million dollars were borrowed from the public-employee pension reserve — money the Governor promises to repay by 2013. Most fiscal experts think the real surplus is closer to $87 million. [The Wall Street Journal, 8/24/10]

    “On his way to declaring a surplus, Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, also benefited from some budgetary legerdemain, and not just his own. For instance, thanks to a measure approved by his Democratic predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine, Virginia speeded up its sales tax collections from the state’s 1,000 largest retailers, shifting $227 million in revenue from the current fiscal year into the one just ended. In a similar vein, Mr. McDonnell postponed $135 million in payments to the Virginia Retirement System for public employees, which were due in the last quarter of the fiscal year.

    Both those maneuvers will cost the state when it returns to a regular sales tax collection schedule and repays its retirement system. Nonetheless, they allowed the governor to sidestep some extremely unpleasant budgetary choices for the time being. Without them, Mr. McDonnell would have had to raise across-the-board taxes, which he has vowed not to do, or made further draconian cuts to a budget already pulverized by the economic downturn. [The Washington Post, 7/30/10]”

    Are you sure “sidestep(ing) some extremely unpleasant budgetary choices” is governing? At least the Governors of both NY and CT had the balls to deal with their budgets in an honest and fair way.

  • hisgirlfriday

    balanced the budget without using any major gimmicks (yeah, he underfunded pensions)

    As an Illinoisan, I can tell you that balancing the budget through underfunding pensions may not seem like a “major gimmick” at the time it happens, but it will lead to ruinous consequences down the road if it becomes a habit. And why wouldn’t it become a habit when pundits and voters fail to punish or hold to account public officials that pay for current expenditures by stealing from future taxpayers?

    • armstp


      This is how it works:

      The new or old trick of Republicans is to underfund the pensions, which creates a bigger unfunded pension liability, and then point to the unfunded liability, which they helped to create, as the excuse to cut public employees pay, holidays and bargaining rights.

      They even go further in some States by cutting taxes, which then increases the budget deficits, which then gives them the excuse to not make the pension payments, which then increases the pension liablity, which then gives them the excuse to cut public employee pays, holidays and bargaining rights.

      Who do you think got the tax cuts on the back of public employee benefits and bargaining rights? The “rich” and corporations. And you wonder why the wealth gap continues to grow and middle class incomes have fallen.

  • Rabiner

    How can anyone responsible say under funding pensions is not a gimmick that will kill your state down the road?

  • LFC

    armstp quoted… “The McDonnell administration and Republican legislators boast about having balanced the budget without raising taxes. But that’s hardly something to brag about when they’re running up the state credit card and raiding the cupboards of future retirees.”

    But why would this shock anybody? It’s exactly what the Republicans have been doing at a national level for decades. Under Reagan the annual deficit shot up causing us to borrow significantly more than we had to in the prior two decades. Raiding the cupboards of future retirees? Under Reagan and HW we slurped up the trust fund surpluses. After 8 years in office Clinton finally got it all under control. Then W and the GOP Congress came in and ran big non-stop deficits while chewing through over $1T in trust fund surpluses.

    There’s nothing new to see here. Gov. Bob is simply walking the Republican line. Borrow and spend and let some other poor sucker try to clean up your mess years down the road.

    • AnBr

      Borrow and spend and let some other poor sucker try to clean up your mess years down the road.

      So in contrast to the tired old Repub line of “tax and spend Democrats” we have “borrow and spend Republicans”. Gee, I wonder what is more fiscally responsible?

  • westony

    Isn’t Va. one of the states Republicans “redistrict” in their Favor….???

    • TobyTucker

      Each chamber is redistricted separately. The GOP was in control of the House, so they wrote the map for the lower chamber, while the Democrats who were in control of the upper chamber did the map for Senate. It appears they didn’t do as good of a job of it as they thought!

  • Oldskool

    It’s amusing that “governing” is now described as the things Democrats try to do whenever they’re not undermined by Republicans.

  • midcon

    While McDonnell has not aced governing (underfunding pensions and some social issues), he has done a satisfactory job of governing the state. He is very socially conservative which moderates have overlooked because they are focused on financial and economic issues. Social conservatives like him because all they care about are social issues. At least McDonnell has recognized that Northern Virginia is the economic engine of the state and that he needs to respect it’s diversity and value. I did not vote for him, but overall if he were to receive a grade, I would give him a B to B+. No politician is ever going to be all things to all people and these days, competence should be primary characteristic. I believe that McDonnell has governed competently.