Bob McDonnell interview
Bob McDonnell was among the first Republicans to lead the party out of the political wilderness. He won the Virginia governorship in 2009 by double digits, running on an anti-Obama agenda in a state Obama had won a year earlier. Since then, he's earned additional bragging rights. As governor, he now has a budget surplus sufficient to fund a one-time-only bonus for state workers. And in an interview this week, he was more than happy to share with me what he considers to be the secrets of his success.
He was less willing to talk about 2012. I asked him if he would make a Shermanesque -- or Christie-esque -- promise not to run for president. He didn't bite. He merely said that he has "many new initiatives" he wants to see through and that "there are any number of good candidates, including some former and current" governors, he would look forward to supporting. Yes, he sure left some wiggle room there.
Although Democrats told McDonnell that he had to raise taxes to close the massive state budget deficit, he ran on a no-new-taxes pledge, and he stuck to his promise. What's the lesson there? "Government's got to set priorities and make tough decisions," he said. "Every time there is a downturn in the economy, you don't go running to the taxpayers."
It isn't surprising that his message for Congress and the president is: "conservative fiscal principles work." He said that he told the state legislature he had every intention of vetoing the $2 billion tax increase proposal that outgoing governor and now DNC chief Tim Kaine left behind. McDonnell wryly observed that "in a few weeks," the legislature got down to business.
Like other GOP governors, he made the case that the Democratic president and Congress's agenda are "universally regarded in a very negative way." He cited both the health-care law and the potential for a major tax increase as behind the negative sentiment. "If there is one thing business abhors," he argued, "it is uncertainty." He contended that the Obama agenda "has kept a lot of capital, a lot of investment and a lot of jobs on the sidelines."
McDonnell however was quite complimentary of the administration when it comes to education policy. He said that a "series of good ideas" including charter schools, merit pay and more accountability" have come from the Obama White House. He hastened to add that these are "all good conservative ideas." He had nothing but praise for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Although he parted company with the administration on "Race to the Top" because he said that a single set of national standards "is not the way to go," he touted Duncan's accessibility and willingness to consult with local officials and speak in the state.
What's his advice to new Republican office holders? He said simply, "Stick to your principles, but make sure you focus on results." As for Congress, he urged the new House leadership to focus on jobs, spending and the economy. "Their stock would go up dramatically if they would stick to those three things," and leave health care and the rest to the states.
McDonnell was among the first Republicans to put together a winning coalition of Tea Partyers, mainstream Republicans and independents. Even if he doesn't run for higher office (Virginia's governor has a one-term limit), Republican candidates and office holders could learn a thing or two from him about winning in a Purple state and using fiscal discipline to win over voters.
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