1. This Week’s Quiz: Who Said This About the Governor?
A couple of Virginia Senators had a few choice words for the Governor. When the Chief Executive personally offered his services to negotiate a budget disagreement between the House and the Senate, one Senator told him “There’s a term in International Relations: honest broker. And we don’t consider you an honest broker.” Another Senator said this when asked about the Governor’s position on the same issue: “I don’t give a damn about the Governor.
This wasn’t John Chichester and Ken Stolle talking about Jim Gilmore in 2001. It’s Janet Howell and Ed Houck talking about Tim Kaine. The Governor’s decision to side with House Republicans on an arcane funding formula matter that the education community asserted would have a negative impact on the long-term support for K-12 schools drew the ire of his fellow Democrats. Houck and Howell battled the House to a standstill and ensured, at least for next year, that the formula won’t be permanently changed.
2. Changing the Playing Field
Bob McDonnell weighed in this week on the out-of-state college admission debate, noting that Virginia schools should give priority to Virginia’s kids. And on Friday, he put the offshore drilling issue front and center, “asking” the Democratic candidates to join him in a letter to Interior Secretary Salazar opposing Governor Kaine’s position that Virginia should delay any exploration for oil off the coast until more research on the environmental impact becomes available. I think McDonnell is providing a very clear signal that he won’t be waging his campaign on the same territory as recent GOP efforts. He’s bringing new issues into the mix where he believes he can get traction with the public and throw the Democratic campaigns off balance. While requesting a “joint” letter to Salazar was an obvious gimmick, McDonnell’s broad strategy should have Democrats concerned.
3. Jindal Fever Subsides
The buildup to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s GOP response to President Obama’s Message to Congress was extraordinary. Jindal’s decision to turn down some of the stimulus dollars due Louisiana made national headlines, put pressure on every GOP governor thinking of running for higher office, and made Bob McDonnell take on a position on whether Virginia should follow Jindal’s lead. It was as if Tuesday night was going to be a sneak preview of the 2012 presidential race. Would Jindal’s response to the President be the political equivalent of Obama’s 2004 convention speech? Well, Jindal failed to live up to his press clippings and his talk was widely panned by his fellow Republicans. By the end of the week, the Jindal buzz was barely a hum and McDonnell’s decision not to embrace Jindal fever on the stimulus proposal seemed to be a wise choice.
4. The Smoking Ban Enters the Statewide Campaign
Bob McDonnell’s decision to oppose the smoking ban ensures that the Democrats will make it an issue in November, especially in NOVA. McDonnell has made it evident that he’ll be contesting Democrats in the region with issues such as excessive state spending and out-of-state college admissions. Democrats will counter by pointing to McDonnell’s opposition to the ban as evidence that he is out of touch with the interests of NOVA voters on a range of issues. Terry McAulife has already hammered McDonnell on more than one occasion for his position here. Expect whoever is the Democratic nominee to do the same.
5. Pollard Dissents
Albert Pollard was the only Democrat to vote against the final budget, noting that the final document underestimated the state’s fiscal problems. He said that “I couldn’t vote for a budget that we’re going to have to come back and cut again in a few months.” Pollard has a well deserved reputation for speaking plainly and truthfully. Knowing Albert, he probably hopes that he is wrong but his comment, I think, probably expresses the fear of many Assembly members who voted for the package.
6. Saved By Stimulus?
Dollars from the federal stimulus package saved legislators from making terribly painful cuts in Education, Medicaid, Mental Health and hospital support. Will the money tide us over until the economy rebounds? Or will it just delay taking the tough medicine that we’ll eventually have to swallow? Most state and local officials know that one-time dollars are the scariest way of plugging a budget hole.
7. Who’ll Be Covering the Next Session?
The declining economic climate provided the backdrop for the entire session. Economic conditions are also rapidly transforming the daily newspaper industry, nationwide as well as in Virginia. This week The Virginian Pilot and Media General announced new cost-cutting measures. Nationally, The Rocky Mountain News said that it would be ceasing publication and California papers printed similar rumors about The San Francisco Chronicle. I don’t imagine that when the Assembly convenes for next year’s session the Virginia media environment will look anything like it does today. We ought to have started thinking yesterday about inventing new models for the media world we’ll be living in sooner than anyone imagined.