Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 9, 2014

Farewell speech: McDonnell apologizes to Assembly

Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — In his farewell address to the General Assembly, outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell apologized Wednesday for a gift scandal that diminished his political standing while touting what he called a strong record of achievement.

McDonnell asserted in his final State of the Commonwealth speech that he’d broken no laws and given no one any special treatment, but conceded this his actions left an “adverse public impression” and that he was “deeply sorry” for the pain he had caused the state.

The governor is currently under federal and state investigation for accepting thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from former CEO Jonnie Williams of Star Scientific Inc., a dietary supplement maker. McDonnell has not been charged with any crime.

With three days remaining until he leaves office, McDonnell’s annual address to lawmakers was one of his last chances to try to define his legacy. He focused much of his speech on Virginia’s economic gains made under his administration, which he said include a net addition of 177,000 new jobs during his tenure.

McDonnell also highlighted what he said was strong stewardship of the state’s economy, which McDonnell said grew its reserves from $295 million to more than $1 billion.

And the governor said it was a rare demonstration of election-year bipartisanship gave him one of the biggest legislative victories of his four-year term: last year’s hefty transportation funding plan designed to spend $6 billion during the next six years to help ease the state’s notoriously bad traffic.

McDonnell also lauded his much-debated public education reforms. According to the governor, his was a “tough love, zero tolerance” approach in creating a state board to take over chronically underperforming schools, what he called the civil rights issue of the day.

Also, McDonnell also called on lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment automatically restoring felons’ voting rights, saying the move was “an important step for justice.”

He said his streamlined process already in place for felons has resulted in more than 8,000 felons regaining their civil rights after serving their sentences. That’s nearly twice as many as any previous administration. However, he said restoration of rights should not be left to the arbitrary judgment but should be a permanent part of the law.

In last year’s State of the Commonwealth speech, the Republican surprised many lawmakers by asking them to support a felons’ rights constitutional amendment. The proposal went nowhere.

A year ago, McDonnell’s was an ascendant political star in the Republican Party. He’d been widely mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate in 2012, had led the influential Republican Governors Association in 2011, and was a popular governor in a swing state. But he leaves office amid unresolved criminal investigations and with his political future unclear.

His successor, Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, is set to be sworn in Saturday.