Human Events Editors Tom Winter, Jed Babbin and John Gizzi interviewed Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Atty. Gen. Bob McDonnell on October 6. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Q: Mr. Deeds seems to be something of a flip-flopper, and you seem to be pretty steady in terms of your experience as attorney general, your experience in the military. Mr. Deeds is, by his own proclamation, a work in progress. Are you?
McDONNELL: We all grow and learn over the years, raising five kids has certainly helped to improve my perspective on the challenges of everyday life. I reserve the right to be smarter today than I was five or ten years ago, but I’ve got a core set of values and principles about limited government and limited taxation. Regulation, litigation, strong right-to-work laws and protection for individual liberties drive my philosophy of government. It’s what has helped guide me for 18 years of elected office and on those things I don’t think you waver. But when you have, for instance, an issue like charter schools, I think you have to be strong in supporting that as a way of improving education. My opponent stood one day with the VEA [Virginia Education Association] and basically stated his opposition, two days later he did a fundraiser with President Obama and indicated his strong support for it. He spoke to the Fraternal Order of Police and said he was for collective bargaining and HR 45, and then a couple of days later was with the Sheriff’s Association and said he was against it. He voted to put a same-sex marriage ban on the ballot and then spent the next two years explaining why it was a bad idea. So I don’t think on some of these core issues that there’s room to vacillate. A couple of weeks after the primary, he said he would not raise taxes and then the last two months he’s been explaining in rather tortured language why he was for higher taxes but was actually really against it, so at the end of the day he’s for higher taxes.
Q: Virginia now has unemployment of about 6.5%, about 3 points lower than the national average. What do you think that’s attributable to, and how do you think it can be dealt with and reduced further?
McDONNELL: In part, it’s because we’ve got the core business environment that is necessary to recruit business and grow small business and promote entrepreneurship. We’ve been ranked the most business-friendly state in America for the last four years by Forbes. Its overall tax, regulatory, litigation climate. We’re one of 22 states with a strong right-to-work law and we’ve had some pretty proactive policies that we’ve passed in the General Assembly over the last decade to be able to help us to recruit business to Virginia. But I have said on this campaign that you can’t rely on your reputation and just say, ‘Hey we’re a good place, come here.’ We’re competing with Carolina and Tennessee, but also all the Pacific Rim countries that have significant tax and regulatory capabilities to be able to attract Western capital off-shore. We’ve got to get a little bit more in the game, and that’s a part of the series of economic initiatives I’ve rolled out.
Q: President Obama has engaged in an unprecedented spending spree and has grown the federal government by an order of magnitude. As governor, would you oppose a further stimulus bill, or would you think that it could be done without burdening the state?
McDONNELL: I think the jury is still out on this first round of the TARP and the stimulus bill, and the spending in the budget and unfunded mandates on business. I don’t know that one could say with any certainty that those have contributed to a significant improvement in the economy, so I think one of the things that is driving this election and helping to drive independent voters back to me, is the spending at the federal level. Most families in Virginia and most small business people understand that they’re cutting and they’re finding ways to withhold new investments and finding ways to, in some cases, reduce their employment and so the last thing they want to see is more taxation and more spending. They see this tremendous move in the opposite direction, with the Bush tax cuts coming back in 2011, new ways to tax business to pay for health care, gas tax increases, other things and they are starting to be concerned and understand that this is an unsustainable level of spending. So, I think that we cannot sustain more spending on the federal level, and what we need is what President Obama promised ten months ago, which was the line-by-line review of the federal budget and find ways to cut waste and abuse.
Q: In terms of the first stimulus, they have some things in there to extend employment benefits, to do more on health care, and a lot of that had to be picked up by the state budgets. Did you oppose that, would you oppose something further along those lines from the federal government?
McDONNELL: We did. I personally opposed, even though the attorney general didn’t have a vote, the portion of the stimulus bill that required long-term changes in the state’s unemployment insurance benefit law. Because what it did, in exchange for a year or two of federal money, it required a permanent change in state law, which at the end of the day created a significant disincentive to hire part-time workers. It went from covering full-time workers which we always covered, to now covering part-time people in job training who have never been covered, which not only created a disincentive to hire them in the future but which secondly put an unfunded mandate on both the state and business people when that money ran out. It was essentially a tax on business, which of course gets passed on to the consumers. So most businesses opposed it, I opposed it, the Republican House of Delegates opposed it, and so we did not accept that because it was rejected by the legislature.
Q: One of your predecessors Jim Gilmore wrote for us that, in his view, Virginia is kind of a purple state these days. How does a good conservative Republican win in a purple state?
McDONNELL: Because it is purple, it is still on the core economic principles a right of center state. Because people understand limited government and low taxes and low regulation, right-to-work. Those have been the mainstays of Virginia’s economy for quite some time, so I’ve been very clear about the fact that I am not raising taxes, that I’m going to find ways to cut spending and regulation, that we’ll improve transportation and education funding by re-prioritizing and using innovation and privatization and consolidation, not by tax increases. On the social issues, I have been very clear: I’m pro-life, I’m pro-family, I’m pro-2nd Amendment. So I think the voters are very clear where I am, and my opponent has vacillated on many of these important positions, which is why the NRA, which endorsed him last time, is now supporting me because he’s waffled even on 2nd Amendment issues over the last four years. So I think it’s stick to your conservative guns, but at the same time you must find practical solutions to the problems that Virginians care about. And right now in particular in the suburban areas like Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, which are the two major areas where I’ve lived, and which control 60% of the votes in the state, they want real solutions, based on those conservative principles. For roads, better schools, more access to university, better energy policies, they just want solutions. That’s why I’ve outlined a detailed plan for fixing transportation with 12 specific funding mechanisms, retooling VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation], public-private partnerships. My opponent basically says get me elected and I’ll put together a commission and if both houses and both parties agree to raise taxes, I’ll sign the bill. That’s A, not leadership, and B, its bad economics. I think that’s why all the business groups in Virginia have supported me, even though they might prefer higher taxes, they’ve applauded me for having a realistic plan that will work because governing is about solutions, and I think I’ve provided some specific solutions.
Q: Your good friends at the Washington Post have tried to “macaca” you, and it seems to have fallen flat. Are you getting past the media and connecting with the people?
McDONNELL: Well, we’re in the phase of the campaign right now where most of the message will come through millions of dollars in paid media, and we’ve been fortunate to raise about $16-$17 million. We’ve had millions of additional dollars that the RNC and the RGA are putting into the race. We’re heavily invested in Northern Virginia, and so despite what the editorial boards of the local media may write or even their news folks on the front page of the Washington Post, it really is going to be much more important what the message each candidate delivers. And as long as he’s talking about divisive social issues that are not factual, and I’m talking about jobs and the economy and energy and transportation, we’re going to win. The Washington Times wrote an interesting editorial two days ago to basically say that my opponent has done something no other politician has done in recent history and that is to unite all the editorial boards in Virginia around a common belief that he is running a negative, dishonest campaign. I’ve tried to run a campaign that is mostly positive and absolutely factual. If we make claims about his record, we’ve got detailed facts to prove exactly where those came from and the other side I think can’t rise to that standard.
Q: You mentioned the thesis, without the thesis there would be none of these TV ads. When you go around the state, are you asked at all about your supposed opposition to birth control for married couples?
McDONNELL: Very little anymore. The first couple of weeks there was an extraordinary number of questions. I think I held the longest press conference in Virginia history the day after the thesis story broke, because I said. ‘Look, I’m going to answer all your questions. We’re going to stay on the phone until the last reporter drops.’ And so we were on for an hour and a half answering every question, and then I entertained some others for a couple of weeks after that, but…
Q: What do you say on that issue?
McDONNELL: Well, most of them were misrepresentations. The whole point of the thesis was to say that the family was the bedrock of society, to reflect the discussions the Reagan was having about the culture at the time, and to say government programs, particularly those that came out of the Great Society were bad for America and bad for the family. Look at my record for the last 18 years on what I did to help improve that. But the representations about banning birth control for married couples is ridiculous. You don’t find that in the thesis and it’s manufactured, even the Washington Post admitted that in one of their fact-checkers.
Q: So as far as you can tell from going around it’s not catching on.
McDONNELL: No, the one that was perhaps the most damaging was the assertion that I was not supportive of working women. They had all sorts of things out there, so we addressed that head on, one with a TV commercial I did, secondly with having my Iraq war daughter, who I think is the ultimate working woman, on TV saying that’s not my Dad, and thirdly we just put a spot on with about six women who have worked with me. Half the people that I hired as deputies, the top managers at the attorney general’s office were women and I thought they were very effective and forceful in being able to knock down that contention.
Q: Can you name any prominent people in Virginia on the Democratic side who are supporting you?
McDONNELL: Sheila Johnson is probably the best example, you know Sheila is the founder of BET, a big Obama supporter, second largest donor to Tim Kaine. She decided two months ago to endorse me, did it prominently, publicly, and has been doing fundraising events and events around the state for me.
Babbin: Alright, counselor, closing arguments, the three biggest reasons why people should vote for you in November.
McDONNELL: One, the biggest issue in the race is jobs and the economy. All the things that are going to turn this economy around, I think I’ve got the right side and he’s got the wrong side. I’m for lower taxes, he’s for higher taxes. I’m for keeping the regulations in check, he’s for more regulation and more government solutions. I’m for private-sector reforms, he’s going to be supportive of all the major programs coming out of the federal level. He’s been sort of conflicted, he’s either quiet, or he’s for card check, cap and trade, and these unfunded mandates on business. Secondly, we are still going to be in a period of tough economic times, and I think having experience to make tough decisions is important. I’ve been an Army officer, a prosecutor, a legislator, an attorney general. I have a Master’s Degree in business and I’ve worked for a Fortune 500 company. My opponent has basically been a practicing lawyer most of that time. And thirdly, I’ve got a record of actually being able to get things done, sticking to my conservative principles but working across party lines. As attorney general, 90% of the bills that I had introduced in the General Assembly passed. My opponent voted for 98% of them, so despite all of his claims about me taking Virginia backward, he thought some of my good conservative ideas weren’t so bad after all when it came time to vote. And I think I’m going to have to probably work with a Democratic senate and a Republican house. That’s what I’m going to inherit, at least for the first two years. So in addition to making sure I stick to my guns, to get anything done I’m going to have to find solutions to get at least a couple of Democrats voting my way, and I’ve got a record of actually getting that done and leading on big issues as attorney general and my opponent doesn’t.