Grading Our Governor

We Evaluate Some Of McDonnell’s Campaign Promises Three Years Into His Term

As Gov. McDonnell’s term comes to a close in Virginia, we thought it was time to take a look at some of his campaign promises and evaluate how he’s done so far in his tenure.

It’s important to keep in mind that when modern politicians run for office, their promises, although many, are often not that specific. We’ve come a long way from George Washington’s famous line: “In executing the duties of my present important station, I can promise nothing but purity of intentions, and, in carrying these into effect, fidelity and diligence.”

One nonpartisan organization, PolitiFact Virginia, has rated 33 of the governor’s campaign promises. By its measures, Gov. McDonnell has kept 15 of those promises, sought compromise on four promises, broken three promises, stalled on four promises and is still working on seven of his promises. 

The following represents only a partial discussion of the breadth of the assertions of McDonnell’s campaign, adding our own take on promises kept and a slight lean toward some of the issues that affect day-to-day life in Hampton Roads.

State Finances & Government

Promise: To Expand the Rainy Day Fund

Status: The Rainy Day Fund was created to buffer our state during bad economic times. The governor supported an amendment that would allow the fund to be larger, and in 2010, voters approved it by a small margin. While the fund is currently funded to 15 percent of its maximum allowable size ($302 million), by
the end of fiscal 2014, the fund is projected to increase to 28 percent or $609 million.

Promise: Expand Lobbyist Disclosure

Status: The governor promised to propose legislation that makes it law for lobbyists to disclose the bills and procurement matters with which they are involved. As of now, not much has been done in this fight for transparency, though some minimal progress has been made.

Promise: Establish an Inspector General

Status: In order to fight fraud, waste and abuse in the bureaucracy of state government, the governor proposed elevating the state’s internal auditor to an inspector general who would also hear citizen complaints. This has been accomplished.

Promise: Establish Ethics Commission

Status: McDonnell also proposed creating an independent agency that would “provide advice and research as well as evaluate complaints concerning elected officials and appointees to boards, commissions and other public bodies.” This was important because Virginia is one of only 10 states without such a commission. Though the governor did create the post of Inspector General (see above), he has not followed through on this independent commission, which would have the authority to probe allegations against members of the General Assembly. These elected officials currently police their own affairs, and the inspector general has no jurisdiction there.

Promise: Ensure Citizen Input in Redistricting

Status: McDonnell promised to ensure “bipartisan citizen involvement” in both the statelevel and congressional-level redistricting by either proposing legislation or creating a blueribbon panel. He did create this 11-member panel on Jan.10, 2011, which heard from Virginians across the commonwealth and proposed maps that were both logical and compact. But when it came to making the actual decisions, both the governor and the legislature ignored the governor’s own panel, instead opting for incumbentfriendly districts that often split communities into several haphazard alignments.


Promise: Expand Monitoring of Sexual Predators

Status: The governor proposed lifetime monitoring of violent sexual predators who leave confinement. 

Funding has been successfully obtained for additional probation and compliance officers.

Promise: Seek Tougher Sentences for Drug Dealers

Status: McDonnell promised to propose legislation to increase mandatory minimums for repeat dealers—five years in prison for second offenses and 10 years for third offenses. Though the general assembly cut the minimum sentence for second offenders from five years to three years to save nearly $6.2 million annually, the governor did propose what he promised.


Promise: Issue Transportation Bonds

Status: In 2007, the assembly had already authorized $3 billion in bonds for transportation, but they had not been issued.

McDonnell promised to issue those bonds, and they are now being issued, though it’s uncertain what the result of these bonds will be when compared to the much larger transportation funding need.

Promise: Dedicate 75 Percent of Surpluses to Transportation

Status: Candidate McDonnell pledged to dedicate 75 percent of budget surpluses to transportation concerns, but after proposing this, the idea was defeated in the Senate, and the level remained 67 percent.

From 2010 onward, the governor only proposed 67 percent but tried to shift $100 million from the general fund to transportation. Again this idea was rejected by the Senate because that money was meant for education, health and public safety.

Promise: Open Shuttered Highway Rest Stops

Status: The candidate promised to re-open 11 Virginia rest stops within 90 days of taking office, and by his 89th day in office, all 11 had been reopened.

Promise: Put Tolls on North Carolina Border

Status: McDonnell promised to add tolls to I-85 and I-95 at the North Carolina border, with the monies collected going to road maintenance and transportation.

But, he knew then that federal regulations would allow Virginia to only toll one interstate at a time (mostly federal funds built the interstates). McDonnell hoped for an exception to the rules but did not ask for a change, and now Virginia is exploring tolling I-95, though perhaps not at our southern border, while the state has given up plans to toll I-85.

Promise: Raise Speed Limit to 70 mph

Status: Candidate McDonnell promised to increase the speed limit to 70 mph on rural parts of Virginia’s highways, and now, even between Hampton Roads and Richmond, travelers are saving time because of the higher speed limits.

Promise: Propose Legislation to Privatize Liquor Stores

Status: Candidate McDonnell promised to propose legislation to take Virginia’s ABC stores private and use monies generated from their sales for transportation, with most dollars just going to maintenance. The governor’s efforts have been blocked, but he has kept at it, continually proposing the controversial plan. His campaign promise was to “propose legislation,” so even though nothing’s been accomplished, he has kept his word.

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