As Virginia passes the 100th day under the McDonnell / Bolling / Cuccinelli administration, Virginia Democrats reflect on 100 days of distractions, division and apologies. Unlike previous Democratic administrations who tackled the problems of Virginia families head-on, the McDonnell / Bolling / Cuccinelli administration has embarked on a course that has made Virginia a less attractive state for business, appealed to a radical right-wing base, and failed to address the serious problems confronting the Commonwealth.
In the first 100 days of Republican rule:
- Governor McDonnell sought hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts to education and healthcare that would have eliminated tens of thousands of jobs;
- Callously declared a month of Confederate history with no consideration for the shameful legacy of slavery;
- A new barrier to rights restoration dredged up painful memories of Virginia’s voter-suppression tactics of the early and mid-20th century;
- Attorney General Cuccinelli embarked on numerous wasteful and futile lawsuits against the federal government; and,
- Republican officials focused on misplaced priorities that move Virginia backward.
Governor McDonnell failed for weeks to present the $4 billion in budget cuts that he required, prompting the Roanoke Times to declare the new Governor "budget-shy" because of his "extraordinary sloughing of responsibility." After weeks of pressure from Democrats, Governor McDonnell finally presented a budget plan that revealed his true priorities: corporate welfare over schools and the needy. Among his proposed cuts, Governor McDonnell sought:
- $731 million in cuts to K-12 education
- Eliminated state support for school breakfast programs for needy children
- Nearly $20 million in cuts to college tuition assistance
- $5 million from the health care safety net
- Eliminated funding for consumer-based care, a move that would have caused 14,000 job losses.
- Closing of five state parks
- Eliminating support for public broadcasting
These cuts were avoided and mitigated in the Democratic controlled Senate which prioritized education, maintenance of the health care safety net, and protecting jobs.
But for Governor McDonnell and his Republican allies, it was never about creating a good budget. On February 17, the Washington Post reported that "Republicans praise McDonnell for being politically savvy enough to not publicly attach his name to the cuts."
Governor McDonnell sat by, and in some cases, cheered on his Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli, as he embarked on wasteful and frivolous lawsuits against the federal government.
On February 16, Attorney General Cuccinelli filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency based on a talk-radio conspiracy of supposedly inaccurate climate change data. When the EPA signed regulations to save Virginians thousands of dollars through increased fuel efficiency in vehicles, the Attorney General doubled-down and sued again.
Finally, The Washington Post reported on March 23 that the Attorney General, with the endorsement of Governor McDonnell, embarked on a crusade against the federal government over the recently passed health care reform legislation. No credible legal expert feels this lawsuit will do anything but waste taxpayers’ time and money. The legislation signed by President Obama will increase coverage and lower costs for thousands of small businesses and uninsured Virginians, but the Attorney General is doing all he can to prevent these important reforms.
On March 23, the Democratic Party of Virginia launched a petition, signed by over 14,000 Virginians, to tell Attorney General Cuccinelli to focus on the issues facing Virginians instead of abusing his office to bankroll personal, political battles. When the DPVA asked the Attorney General to reveal how much time and money he was wasting on his frivolous lawsuit over healthcare, his office refused to provide any information.
Governor McDonnell reversed the state’s nondiscrimination policies that had served the state workforce well for nearly a decade under Democratic governors.
He pointedly left the door open for discrimination based on sexual orientation, sat silently while House Republicans killed legislation to protect state workers, then concurred with the Attorney General’s advice to colleges that they could not protect gay employees.
Once he realized he had ignited a national firestorm, Governor McDonnell issued a nonbinding "executive directive" on discrimination, offering no legal protections or recourse for victims of discrimination, and boldly declared, "I believe that takes care of it." (Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/13/10)
Playing to his Base
Governor McDonnell decided to appeal to a small segment of the radical right wing by declaring April to be "Confederate History Month," a month where we should reflect on "the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens." The Governor callously ignored the role of slavery in the conflict in his initial proclamation and told the Washington Post on April 7 that he only included the aspects of the war that "were most significant for Virginia." Apparently slavery did not reach the Governor’s standard of significance.
Once Governor McDonnell realized he had cast a negative national light on the Commonwealth with his divisive proclamation, he quickly backpedaled, apologized, and revised the proclamation.
This begged the question, what was Governor McDonnell trying to accomplish with his proclamation? On April 8, Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney offered one possible explanation:
"I’m sad to say that the most likely explanation is that McDonnell and his advisers knew exactly what they were doing and only reversed course when they realized that they’d blown it."
Governor McDonnell is quickly realizing that delivering results is considerably more difficult than delivering campaign sound bites. After pledging in December to fix transportation "at some point during his first year," McDonnell quickly backtracked in January.
"Despite making transportation a top priority during last year’s campaign, Gov.-elect Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Thursday that he will not propose a fix during this year’s legislative session," the Washington Post reported on January 15.
Governor McDonnell now says he will work to build consensus before calling a special session to enact transportation solutions. But on the campaign trail he criticized his opponent’s plan to do just that. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported McDonnell saying on Aug 5. 2009, "His plan is ‘elect me’" and that he will call a special session and work with the legislature, McDonnell said. "That’s not leadership. That’s not a plan."
Obstacles to the restoration of rights:
In the last 100 days, Governor McDonnell instituted a new essay requirement for the restoration of voting rights. When the new requirement was reported by the Washington Post, Governor McDonnell’s Secretary of the Commonwealth trumpeted the requirement as "an opportunity, not an obstacle." When public opinion soured on the Governor’s new impediment to voting, his office claimed it was just a "draft policy proposal," even though several hundred applicants had received notification of the new policy. The administration claimed "the letter was sent without approval by a well-meaning staffer."
This second divisive and ill-advised policy prompted the Roanoke Times editorial page to declare that the "Governor is batting .000 on race issues."
In addition to these stumbles, Governor McDonnell:
- Wanted his Secretary of Commerce and Trade to remain on the payrolls of corporations
- Censored the State Police in policy development
- Attempted to weaken new ethics rules
- Held fundraisers at the Governor’s Mansion