On election night in November 2009, many of us were at the jam-packed Richmond Marriott listening to the Black Eyed Peas’ “Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night” playing in the background as it was jubilantly announced that Bob McDonnell had won the gubernatorial race. The win was historic. He had won with the most votes of any governor in Virginia history by running an incredible campaign on the economy and “Bob’s for Jobs” and, in the process, helped sweep in a wave of Republicans with him.
It was a victorious evening following years of GOP losses. McDonnell had brought the Republican Party of Virginia back after losing two straight gubernatorial races (2001, 2005), two straight U.S. Senate races (2006, 2008), and a presidential race (2008).
The new governor hit the ground running, fulfilling his campaign promise to immediately reopen the 19 rest areas and welcome centers that had been closed by Democrat Tim Kaine in the final six months of his administration after he claimed there was not enough money to keep them open.
McDonnell then went to work on his campaign promise of jobs. Virginia’s unemployment is now down to 5.5%, the lowest in four years, the lowest in the Southeast, and the lowest east of the Mississippi. Bob’s for Jobs.
All along the way, this pragmatic conservative leader pushed for what was best for Virginia. Public service has been his life. A 21-year U.S. Army veteran who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, he served in the Virginia legislature as a delegate before becoming attorney general and then governor.
When McDonnell took the oath as governor, he knew he was inheriting a transportation problem that had hung over previous occupants of the Executive Mansion for decades. Reminiscent of “Dave” in the movie of the same name, he and his staff figuratively took out the red pencil and went to work auditing, cutting, and abolishing unnecessary expenditures.
They tried everything from privatizing Virginia’s ABC stores (voted down by the General Assembly) to auditing VDOT to using all the Commonwealth’s debt capacity available to build roads. The math didn’t work out. So he assembled a broad coalition of over 60 transportation, business, and labor groups to press for immediate action on the 27-year problem, reaching out to Democrats as well as Republicans.
The final plan was submitted to the 2013 General Assembly but it was kicked to committee where a compromise was hammered out. The historic landmark legislation passed in the General Assembly with a bipartisan vote of 44 Republicans and 43 Democrats.
In 2010 when McDonnell stepped into the governor’s office, he inherited the largest budget deficit in the history of the Commonwealth with a $4.2 billion budget introduced by outgoing Democratic Governor Tim Kaine. No governor had ever taken office confronting a budget shortfall of that size. By reducing spending instead of tax hikes, McDonnell was able to close the historic budget shortfall and reduce state spending to 2006 levels. He ended the session with 80 percent of his legislative proposals passing the General Assembly.
In 2011, legislators passed 92 percent of the Governor’s legislative proposals. One was his bipartisan “Top Jobs” higher education reform act that created the pathway for 100,000 more degrees to be awarded in the Commonwealth over the next 15 years, prompting Democratic State Senator Edd Houck to note, “Some have suggested this is the most significant and comprehensive higher education initiative since the creation of the Community College System 40 years ago.” He also gained legislative approval for elimination of various boards and commissions to make state government smaller and more efficient. CNBC named Virginia their Top State for Business and reported that the Old Dominion received the highest point total in the history of their rankings. That same year, Pollina Corporate named Virginia the “Most Pro-business State in the Nation,” and noted, “Virginia is the unquestionable brightest star on the American flag when it comes to being pro-business … Virginia is truly in a class by itself.”
In 2012, the Governor saw 88 percent of his agenda passed by the General Assembly. Unemployment was at 5.6 percent which was 23% lower than when he took office two years earlier. Agricultural exports reached an all-time high, and cattle were to be exported to Canada for the first time in Virginia history. Soybeans were shipped to China, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters announced 800 jobs in Isle of Wight, Amazon.com brought over 1,300 new jobs, and the Chesapeake Bay blue crab population soared back to a 20-year high. Good year.
The 2013 session just concluded and the Governor saw 88 percent of his legislation passed by the General Assembly including the landmark transportation bill that will fund roads, infrastructure, and other projects throughout the Commonwealth.
Three years after taking office, Bob McDonnell’s leadership has produced a string of accomplishments that will positively benefit the Commonwealth into the future.