Virginia's new top dog takes center stage


All things considered, Virginia’s minty fresh new governor Bob McDonnell had about as good a first few weeks as any pearly toothed pol could ask for. He gave a platitude-filled, well-received inauguration speech, threw himself a million-dollar party, and then settled into his big comfy governor’s chair and got down to the business of reversing his recent predecessor’s unpopular decisions. Not only did McDonnell endear himself to full-bladdered roadtrippers everywhere by reopening the highway rest areas closed last year by a budget-conscious Tim Kaine, he also got to play tough sheriff by revoking the transfer of Jens Soering, the former University of Virginia student convicted of killing his girlfriend’s parents in 1986, back to his native Germany. 

And the icing on the cake? He got to kick back and watch the fun as the House of Delegates shot an arrow through the heart of Kaine’s proposed 1-percent income tax hike.
Of course, how he’s going to make up for this much-needed revenue is something of a mystery. As of this writing, McDonnell has only outlined around $50 million in one-time cuts and revenue shifts, which is really just a drop in Virginia’s projected 2-year, $4.2 billion budget bucket. Add to that the fact that McDonnell has already proposed $50 million in new spending, put the kibosh on new taxes, and is pushing forward with his plan to privatize Virginia’s ABC stores, thereby cutting off a cash spigot ($307.5 million in fiscal 2008) in return for a one-time payday.
But hey, who has time for boring details when you’re the Republican Party’s new poster child? Indeed, McDonnell barely had time to get Kaine’s stray eyebrow hairs steam-cleaned out of the carpet before he got a call from the big boys in Washington, who asked him to deliver the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union speech.
Now, this was obviously an offer he couldn’t refuse, but it was also an opportunity fraught with peril. Kaine’s 2006 rebuttal was painful to watch, and last year’s attempt by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was even worse: He started his speech as the Republicans’ tough-talking, no-nonsense, Indian-American answer to Barack Obama, and ended it looking like the GOP’s special needs cousin who had somehow escaped from his playroom and commandeered the podium.
So McDonnell took no chances. Not only did he give the speech in front of an audience of supporters (a first for the rebuttal, which is usually delivered in an empty, poorly lit room), but he actually set up the well of the House of Delegates to resemble a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He even  started his speech by glad-handing his way to the podium, as if he were actually the president rather than a first-term governor with barely 11 days of service under his belt.
It was a peculiar, if not completely ineffective, choice—it seemed presumptuous and contrived, but at least he avoided the creepy, POW-video aesthetic of rebuttals past. And best of all, the $30,000 cost of this Potemkin presidential playset was picked up by the national GOP, keeping at least one line item off of McDonnell’s ever-ballooning budget.
Say, there’s an idea! Maybe those deep-pocketed party bosses would be interested in a chain of clean, cozy ABC stores. We’ll let ’em go cheap—how’s $4.2 billion sound?