Fact Check: Did McDonnell Turn His Back on Unemployed?
To accuse a Virginian politician of turning his back on Martinsville, the beleagured Southside mill town whose unemployment rate hit 21.6 percent in June, is almost like a slur.
But that's what the gubernatorial campaign of state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D) did last week, saying that Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell "stood against the workers in the area when textile plants shut down and left nearly 3,000 workers jobless."
As a former delegate, McDonnell voted against "a bipartisan emergency relief package" that would have provided enhanced jobless benefits, including health insurance, for laid-off Martinsville textile workers, the Deeds campaign said.
The allegation is accurate--but also deserves some context.
It's true that the Textile Workers Relief Act of 2000, HB1369 sponsored by Del. Ward L. Armstrong, attracted bipartisan support, especially in the House of Delegates. Among the Republicans who signed on were William J. Howell, who is now the speaker of the GOP-led House. Deeds was also a co-sponsor.
McDonnell was not listed as a co-sponsor of Armstrong's bill.
The bill, designed to aid thousands of workers laid off by Tultex and other plants in December 1999, would have boosted unemployment benefits by 43 percent and extended coverage for up to two years in regions with more than 10 percent unemployment--namely Martinsville. But the bill died on an 11-11 vote in the House Labor and Commerce committee, of which McDonnell was not a member. A similar Senate bill also languished in committee.
Lawmakers from Southside then put forward budget amendments to aid the region, including one that would have committed $5.5 million and $1.5 million over two years to buy health care insurance for laid-off textile workers in Martinsville.
Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore argued that such a narrowly targeted benefit was not fair to other unemployed Virginians--or even to jobless textile workers outside Martinsville--and could cost as much as $364 million a year if it were applied to everyone out of work. Instead, Gilmore proposed using the money for economic development grants for Martinsville and other hard-hit areas. But his alternative failed.
So Gilmore vetoed the budget amendment altogether, explaining his decision in tones described by the Richmond Times Dispatch as "sometimes harsh." "One must conclude that the object was to mislead the workers of Martinsville into thinking that their Governor, by this veto, does not care about them," Gilmore said.
McDonnell voted for Gilmore's proposal.
"Bob was extremely sympathetic to the plight of those who lost their jobs in Martinsville and his concern applies to all Virginians, from Fairfax to Bristol, who face unemployment. He felt then, as he does now, that we need to approach these issues as a Commonwealth," spokesman Tucker Martin said.
Sources: Legislative Information Services; "Gilmore Vetoes Bill To Aid Workers" by Michael Hardy, Richmond Times Dispatch, May 20, 2000
August 16, 2009; 9:27 AM ET
Categories: 2009 Governor's Race , 2009 Governor's Race Fact Checker , Creigh Deeds , Fredrick Kunkle , Robert F. McDonnell
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