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Virginia’s Impressive Governor

Yesterday the Manhattan Institute and e21 (with which I’m associated) hosted the latest in their Conversations With series – in this instance, a conversation with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell.

I was familiar with Governor McDonnell, in part because I’m a resident of Virginia; but I had never before heard him interviewed at length, in a setting like this. And I came away quite impressed. Governor McDonnell is serious and sober, fluent and knowledgeable on the issues, an engaging and likable fellow. He also, and most importantly, has amassed an impressive governing record in a short period of time.

For example, he reduced state spending to 2006 levels by cutting $6 billion out of two budgets while defeating attempts to levy a $2 billion increase in the state income tax. (McDonnell inherited a budget deficit of more than $4 billion; today the state has a surplus and has demonstrated remarkable revenue growth.) The state unemployment rate has dropped to 6.3 percent today from 7.2 percent in February 2010. Virginia is among the most pro-business states in the union. Governor McDonnell, facing a Democratic majority in the State Senate, has shown an impressive capacity to defuse partisan squabbles. He had arguably the most successful first legislative session of any Virginia governor in modern history. And his pension reforms, education initiatives, and transportation package are fairly impressive achievements.

In his conversation with Bryon York of the Washington Examiner, McDonnell was asked about whether we are in a “new moment” in which restraint on government spending—including entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid—are no longer politically lethal. Governor McDonnell believes we are in such a moment. Why? “Because it’s a math problem,” he says. We can’t get from where we are to where we need to be without seriously cutting programs that are large and popular. We’re seeing a new and more enlightened understanding among the citizenry when it comes to deficits and the debt. “People get it at a core level,” he insists. That doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t encounter stiff, even frantic, opposition to budget cuts. And polls may go down as cuts are made. But McDonnell believes Americans are ready for straight talk and adult leadership – and over time it’s something they’ll reward.

At least in Commonwealth of Virginia, that seems to be the case. Governor McDonnell’s approval rating is now 66 percent. He’s quite an impressive figure; but see for yourself.