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Posted at 11:20 AM ET, 12/ 2/2010

Bob McDonnell interview

By Jennifer Rubin

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.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 2, 2010; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign, economy  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The deficit dance and the 2012 election
Next: Losing the debate, says Ted Strickland

Comments

How do we have a surplus when we can't afford our roads?

Posted by: jhnnywalkr | December 2, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

The roads in Virginia have never been funded properly - and that is one reason the people of West Virginia wanted to leave.

Virginia needs to put more money into education and roads, we all know that - but those have been issues for 200 years.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 2, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

I see 38% of the states revenue is from the federal gov't. What is Gov McDonnell planning on doing if his buddies in Congress slash federal spending?

Posted by: kchses1 | December 2, 2010 12:54 PM | Report abuse

How refreshing to see something sensible for a change in my hometown paper.

Posted by: clarice2 | December 2, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

kchses1 asks an interesting question.

So let's think about this. The only way that the Federal gummint can close the budget gap is by lowering expenditures while sustaining reasonable reciepts.

therefore the situation may very well be that the feds cut the fundage to states without lowering taxes the states will have to either cut spending or raise taxes to cover the difference.

for myself I think the states should look at a few things:

The size of the state work force.

the size of the local workforce and the percentage of that cost that is bourne by state general fund money.

the wages of the workforce

the pension liability incurred by the workforce.

the size and scope of welfare regime.

The cost of Medicaid and the cost of sustaining it as it was originally created.

the block grants that flow from the state capital to the counties and cities in the state.

The cost of the public school system, including higher ed.

Just some things to start with. This will be an interesting time in our country.

Posted by: skipsailing28 | December 2, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Skipsailing28

Virginia has little to worry about - if the budget really does have that kind of surplus.

Imagine the situations in Illinois, New York and California - all big democratic states packed with expensive union contracts.


Those states have massive deficits - propped up with accounting tricks - they are in trouble.


.

Posted by: RainForestRising | December 2, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer, do you ever sleep? Your blog output - and interviewing - has been amazing ... and immensely enjoyable to read.

GREAT work!

Posted by: mobileruss | December 2, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

It is good to be Virginian.
Thanks for the great interview & commentary, Jennifer.

Oh, Mr. Gov., thanks for a great save after the mess Kaine pitched you.
Please offer A.G. Cuccinelli the U.S. Attorney General spot when you become POTUS. There is much heavy lifting to be done in that position. Who else could actually do it?

Posted by: Russell_P_Davis | December 6, 2010 10:29 PM | Report abuse

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