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Conduct Unbecoming a Virginian

integrity [1]1967 was the Summer of Love, but some 46 years later, in Virginia, 2013 has become the Summer of Scandal.

I’ve always been proud to be a Virginian. Proud of our heritage. Proud of our history. Proud of the beauty that the Commonwealth has to offer.

Proud of a state that gave us leaders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry. And yes, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson who were wrong in their cause (please, go debate the I-95 flag [2] on another thread), but were men of faith and integrity. A state that brought us Stephen Austin, Pearl Bailey, June Carter Cash and even Shirley MacLaine.

Certainly there are some blemishes on our history. Slavery and massive resistance to name a couple. But, 120 years after the end of the Civil War, Virginia elected the first African American Governor in the nation and the state has twice voted for Barack Obama. The recent death of Harry F. Byrd, Jr. [3], himself a great leader but with many wrong ideas, reminds us that we have an ugly past. We’re learning. Slowly. But we’re learning.

An ugly past with racism really isn’t the story here. At least not entirely.

There was a time when “Virginia Gentleman” referred to more than bourbon, and a time when we could be proud of our leaders.

A few years back someone (and I can’t recall the reference) published a story about ethics laws and how each state ranked. If I recall correctly, New Jersey was considered to have some of the best ethics laws and Virginia some of the worst.

I snarked at the time, “that’s because Virginians don’t need them.”

To the citizens of the great Commonwealth of New Jersey, I offer my most sincere and humble apologies.

I have been proven wrong.

I don’t need to rehash the stories here. You’ve read all about gift-gate and GreenTech. Well, perhaps not all. I fear that there’s much more we don’t really know about either story.

But Bob McDonnell is the outgoing governor and Terry McAuliffe is the man who has a hard time deciding in which state he’d prefer to be governor.

So, how does this affect Ken Cuccinelli? Badly if the Democrats and Bill Bolling have their way.

But, as Shaun pointed out earlier today [4], Ken Cuccinelli is the top Virginia politician calling for immediate action on ethics reform. Bob McDonnell, Bill Bolling, Terry McAuliffe and Speaker of the House Bill Howell all oppose the idea.

Maybe they’re right. After all in the coming General Assembly Session any ethics reform legislation would be sent to a new governor not tainted (rightly or wrongly) by scandal. Unless of course, it’s Governor McAuliffe.

Yes, I know that Ken Cuccinelli initially failed to report some gifts. That was a mistake on his part. But in any other election year, the amounts he received would be considered a footnote.

In calling for a special session, Ken Cuccinelli wrote earlier this week [5], “Why not take up this issue right now when it’s in the front of everyone’s mind? Telling the public, “we’ll get to it later,” is inadequate. That’s what the federal government does. Ethics reform is about restoring the public trust. When that is in doubt, nothing is more important than restoring it.”

Terry McAuliffe called that a “gimmick.” Terry certainly knows gimmicks. But he’s wrong about this.

We need ethics reform, and we need it now. And that makes me sad.

Virginians, home of the oldest representative government body in the New World should be better than that.

In an interview last week, Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson said, “I think that we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard, rather than always simply looking for ways to change the law to make people do what they already know is right.” [WHRV via Richmond Times-Dispatch [6]]

How I wish that were true. Call me naïve. I used to think it was. But, not any more.

The truth is, I’ve been involved in politics long enough that I haven’t believed that in a long time. Over some 30 years there are four men for whom I have worked whose integrity I would never question. Two have since passed away. Two have chosen not to run again for elective office.

Sometimes strength of character shines through most brightly when a politician says “I won’t do that if that’s what it takes to win.” That’s a great discussion for another post.

Instead, we’re discussing the Summer of Scandals.

As Virginians, we should not even be having these conversations. But, here we are.

While he meant it in a different context Tim Kaine was right on election night in 2008 when he said, “Ol Virginny is dead.”