Election Day is behind us, and for the first time in eight years Virginia has a Republican governor-elect in Bob McDonnell. Virginia, like America, seems to like letting one party claim the top executive post for a while before letting the other side have a shot. Interestingly, though, Virginias pattern over the past 32 years has been to elect governors from the opposite party from the sitting president. Not since republican Mills Godwin was elected governor in 1973 while Richard Nixon was president has Virginia elected a governor from the same party as the sitting president.
Given the contrary nature of Virginia voters, then, McDonnells resounding victory in Tuesdays election should come as no surprise. Perhaps its our proximity to Washington maybe we see too much of our countrys chief executive that keeps us choosing the opposition party in our gubernatorial elections. Perhaps its pure coincidence. If so, thats nine coincidences and counting.
Regardless of the reason for his victory, I believe that McDonnell will make a fine governor. I first met McDonnell 14 years ago in Richmond when I was helping craft Virginias welfare reform plan and McDonnell was the initiatives chief sponsor in the then-Democrat controlled House of Delegates. He impressed me as smart and devoted to the cause of helping welfare recipients mostly minority women build better lives for themselves and their children. He was able to work effectively with delegates on the other side of the aisle. In short, he was clearly a rising star even then.
I believe that McDonnell will be an able and effective governor, and here are six primary reasons why:
First, because hes a genuinely nice guy. That seems like a given, as most people in politics, regardless of their views, are likable. But thats not always the case. Some governors wind up disliked, even by people from their own party. McDonnell has an engaging, optimistic, can-do personality. His cheerful disposition will enable him to work with Republicans and Democrats alike. As he looks to shrink the state government, McDonnell will likely meet with resistance from state workers, who are generally not political activists but are still a left-leaning group (and who understandably want to keep their jobs). Possessing good people skills will help him in this endeavor.
Second, I love the fact that he is a military veteran. McDonnells military background (he served a total of 21 years in active duty and the reserves) was evident in the highly disciplined campaign he ran. I believe he will approach the governorship with the same disciplined approach: He will promote his key initiatives and work methodically to achieve his goals. I also like the fact that a veteran is at the helm of a state that has so many active duty personnel during a time of war.
Third, his business background will also serve him well. McDonnell is not a career politician. He holds a graduate business degree, was a business manager for a Fortune 500 company and even worked in sales for Virginias largest newspaper (the Virginian-Pilot) while attending law school. He understands the needs of businesses and I believe he will be effective in bringing jobs to Virginia.
Fourth, his Northern Virginia ties bode well for our region. McDonnell knows what its like to sit in traffic on the beltway and hes actually going to try and do something about it. He favors letting an extra .30 percent of all sales tax raised in Northern Virginia stay here (estimated at $105 million annually) in a fund to be used to pay for transportation projects in our region, according to his website. He also favors redirecting part of the $3 billion 2007 bond initiative toward new construction and he favors another billion in bonds to fund improvements to high congestion areas.
Fifth, the list of issues he looks to tackle is encouraging. On education, he favors allowing charter public schools and intends to direct an additional 4 percent of education funding from administration to classrooms. Refreshingly, he intends to cut state government spending, which has doubled over the past 10 years (growing 30 percent faster than the rate of growth in inflation and population) rather than seek ways to raise our taxes, according to his website. As he said during the campaign, We have a spending problem more than a taxation problem.
Finally, hes simply an effective guy who gets things done and theres no reason to think that will stop as governor. McDonnell has a track record as a delegate who fought for and won passage of major initiatives, such as juvenile justice reform, welfare reform, elimination of the death tax and crackdowns on sex predators and gangs. He was a successful attorney general who attacked internet crime and identity theft and worked to eliminate frivolous lawsuits.
Given Virginias voting history over the past 32 years, along with voter disaffection with the incredible deficits being run up in Washington, McDonnells win was not a surprise. But his whopping 18-point margin of victory an old-fashioned landslide was unexpected. McDonnell will take office with a clear mandate to pursue his initiatives. I believe he will succeed.
Denise Dunbar is the editorial page editor of the Alexandria Times.