1. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
That’s what Eric Cantor must be thinking this week. He formed the Council for a New America as a well intentioned effort to help rebrand the Republcian Party and enable it to shed its image as the “Party of No.” Two weeks into the effort Cantor may be wondering why he bothered. Last week, Rush Limbaugh and movement conservatives lashed out at the group for implying that the GOP need a “listening tour” to obtain ideas from the public when they had been ignoring all the good advice that Limbaugh and others had already been providing. This week the Democrats and Washington-based “watchdog” groups lambasted Cantor for dedicating congressional staff time to the effort. The Center for Public Integrity wrote that “what he has done may be legal, but he is straddling the line to have taxpayers pay for partisan political activity.” I think that Cantor was right on target to think that the national GOP needs a refurbished image and message, but finding a method and vehicle for doing so is extraordinarily difficult.
2. Is Cantor’s Problem McDonnell’s Also?
Bob McDonnell obviously needs national GOP money. But I’m not sure that he needs any of the headaches that comes with too close an identification with the national GOP today. What Republican figure at the national level is likely to be helpful to McDonnell’s effort to get elected in November? Maybe this is why McDonnell is up on television with an ad that manages to omit any mention of his party identification, something that only Democrats used to do in Virginia. Maybe he ought to go a step further and take a page from Doug Wilder’s book in 1989 and just tell many of the more prominent GOP national figures that they can help him anyway they want, so long as they stay out of Virginia. If Terry McAuliffe turns out to be the Democratic nominee, running a Virginia First campaign may not turn out to be a bad idea.
3. McDonnell’s Higher Ed Policy
In a talk at George Mason University, McDonnell proposed a serious higher education policy initiative this week. He emphasized that Virginia’s colleges and universities, including the community colleges, ought to be better funded and focused more directly on contributing to the long-term prosperity of the Commonwealth. He said that Virginia needs to increase significantly the number of adults holding college degrees, find ways of addressing shortages in critical skill areas and reorient the State Council on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). He called for greater investment in higher education, though the speech did not include either a dollar figure or a specific business plan. While there may differences of opinion about the individual elements mentioned by McDonnell, the talk set just the right tone in asserting that we need a statewide policy about higher ed in Virginia and not think that this will automatically emerge from the decisions of the individual college and university boards. I was especially impressed with his remarks about Virginia’s community colleges, a system that is a real treasure for the Commonwealth and could be even more effective with additional resources.
4. McDonnell’s VPAP Challenge
Bob McDonnell issued a challenge at the annual breakfast for the Virginia Public Access project this week. If elected Governor, McDonnell pledged to donate $10,000 to VPAP, one of the nation’s leading campaign finance disclosure sites. McDonnell rightly noted that if Virginia did not have VPAP, there would be far more pressure to regulate all aspects of campaign finance. This is a challenge all of the Democrat gubernatorial candidates ought to accept. And while we’re at it, shouldn’t the candidates for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General follow McDonnell’s lead at, let’s say, half the amount? I’ll keep a list of who’ll will take McDonnell’s challenge and update it as the campaign proceeds.
5. Tough on Terry
This seems to be where the Democratic gubernatorial campaign is heading, as both Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds escalated their attacks on Terry McAuliffe this week. I was receiving daily updates from the Moran campaign’s “Pinnochio Report,” outlining what it considers to be McAuliffe’s exaggerations and false promises. For his part, McAuliffe is sticking to both message and tone, keeping his “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” theme front and center and maintaining a relentlessly upbeat demeanor on the campign trail. The Demcorats to whom I’m speaking are still offering very different takes on the likely outcome. Some think that McAuliffe’s message, optimism and resources will clearly carry the day, while others believe that Moran’s base in the the 8th congressional district or Deeds’ argument that he is the most electable ideologically will enable one of them to confound the pollsters.
6. And Then There Were Two…
Jon Bowerbank dropped out of the Democratic race for Lieutenant Governor this week and threw his support to Jody Wagner in the contest with Mike Signer, the other remaining candidate in the race. Signer has impressed a number of Democratic activists in his travels around the state, but Wagner has more name recognition the state and more resources to get a message out in the final weeks. She’s considered the frontrunner in most Democratic circles and it would be a huge upset if the former Secretary of Finance does not obtain the nomination.
7. Virginia Revises Budget Forecast Downward (Again)
There is a lot of talk about “green shoots” sprouting up in the wider economy, but it has yet to be seen in Virginia’s revenue collections. Governor Kaine announced this week that a forecast that predicted a 7.3% decline in revenues for the remainder of the fiscal year has been revised downward to 8.8%. Delegate Albert Pollard (D) and Senator Mark Obenshain (R) had both warned in February that they weren’t optimistic that the state would be able to hit it’s budget targets. I had a number of conversations with former Governor Doug Wilder and he had told me that the downside momentum in tough times almost always exceeds even the most detailed and thorough forecasts. I am hoping that the same happens on the upside and that some of these “green shoots” actually become green dollars for the Commonwealth by the end of 2009.