Op-eds and Articles

McDonnell’s Political Travails: Living & Dying by the Sword

By / 4.13.2010

The following is an excerpt from Mike Signer’s op-ed in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Bob McDonnell’s recent troubles have surprised me; when I first met McDonnell three years ago, I found him both thoughtful and careful — traits in scarce evidence today.

In January 2007, McDonnell keynoted a panel at the University of Richmond about a law review article I had written on the conflicts between governors and separately elected attorneys general. As deputy counselor to Gov. Mark Warner, I had been deeply troubled by the aggressive, ideological lawyers in then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore’s office, who constantly challenged our positions. In an article for the University of Richmond Law Review, I proposed that Virginia allow governors, rather than attorneys general, to direct the legal strategy of state agencies.

McDonnell had been elected attorney general just a year before. Initially, his election seemed like a recipe for only more conflict between another Republican attorney general and Democratic governor. Yet while he’d planted a conservative flag or two, McDonnell had also studiously avoided legal and policy conflicts with the new Democratic governor, Tim Kaine.

I hadn’t met McDonnell before and was curious about what he’d be like. From the moment he shook my hand and gave me a warm smile, I found him both personable and thoughtful. When he got behind the podium, he worked through my argument carefully. He cordially disagreed with my proposal, explaining that his very different approach from Kilgore meant a mandatory remedy was unnecessary. Like good Virginian gentlemen, we agreed to disagree.

Fast forward to today. In a few short weeks, Gov. McDonnell has abandoned his hallmark restraint and instead whipsawed all over the political map, delivering incoherent and incompetent governance in the process. Both Democrats and Republicans would do well to learn from McDonnell’s disastrous first 100 days.

Read the full column at the Times-Dispatch.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore