Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 2009

In the race for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Attorney General Bob McDonnell (R) faces off against Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25th). Governors serve four-year terms, and are limited to one consecutive term (hence, Governor Tim Kaine [D] is ineligible to run for reelection). This race presents a rematch of the 2005 Attorney General race, in which McDonnell narrowly defeated Deeds by the closest margin for a statewide office in Virginia election history.

Following the generally inept leadership of Governor Jim Gilmore (R) from 1997-2001, Virginia changed political course with the election of Governor Mark Warner (D). Warner’s tenure was one of comparative stability and, while I certainly disagreed with many of his policies, he did well enough to merit the Off on a Tangent endorsement when he challenged Gilmore for the U.S. Senate in 2008.

Virginians elected Warner’s natural successor, Governor Tim Kaine (D), to the highest office in the state in 2005. In a rare move for such an important office, I made no endorsement in that race. Kaine and his challenger, Jerry Kilgore (R), each presented nothing but empty rhetoric and half-developed plans to solve Virginia’s toughest problems. Neither were the right person for the job, and Kaine’s leadership over the last four years has not changed my mind. There has been little to no progress on the biggest issues.

Our transportation network, especially in the urbanized Northern Virginia and Tidewater regions of the Commonwealth, is still in shambles after decades of neglect and half-measures. Meanwhile, our education system is decades behind where it ought to be. The last major education initiative in Virginia (putting aside the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind law) was Gilmore’s Standards of Learning program—a good idea implemented very poorly.

With such little progress over two gubernatorial tenures in these key policy areas, it may surprise you that our state budget has doubled—rising 30 percent faster than the state’s population growth. Virginians would be hard-pressed to identify any obvious return on our investment, though. Our long-standing problems continue to fester un-solved. So where has all this money been going?

This question remains unanswered, which is why I find it curious that Deeds’s campaign says he, as governor, “will build on the Warner/Kaine legacy of fiscal responsibility.” What legacy of fiscal responsibility is that? In tying himself so closely to the apparently wasteful spending of the last two administrations, Deeds’s claims the he will make Virginia’s government ‘leaner and more efficient’ simply aren’t believable.

An examination of how Deeds intends to finally fix our transportation system reveals a simplified rehashing of old ideas, topped off with a declaration that we can’t solve the problem without ‘new revenue’—a euphemism for increased taxes. Given the massive increase in state revenues and budgets over the last decade, Virginians should have little patience for any effort to increase our tax burden. Any discussion of tax increases is especially reckless and counterproductive during a recession. I am confident that our state can fund transportation improvements from the general fund and other non-tax sources if it were to simply start managing its money properly.

Even putting aside the non-starter argument that Virginia needs to tax us more to fix our road and rail network, Deeds’s transportation plan is laughably vague. One of the key points of his plan is, “Reduce congestion (and commute times) in Northern Virginia.” How does he intend to actually do it? Your guess is as good as mine.

Deeds fares much better with his education plan, but that isn’t saying much. He proposes to audit schools for efficiency and reduce waste, expand educational choice (though, notably, not with a proven voucher plan), provide better loans and scholarship options for higher education, and reward our best performing teachers. Excluding his opposition to real school choice, Deeds presents an acceptable—though not groundbreaking—plan for improving education in Virginia.

McDonnell, running in an effort to regain his party’s control of the governor’s mansion after eight years, has a consistent voting record of opposing any increase in Virginians’ tax burden. He recognizes that our low taxes are the single biggest factor in attracting businesses to our state, and knows that any tax increase—especially now—will undermine our economy, increase unemployment, and place an undue burden on struggling citizens.

Instead of reckless tax increases, McDonnell would pursue a comprehensive effort to reform our state government. He proposes to strengthen our auditing system to identify and eliminate waste and abuse, simplify government procedures, make smart investments in new technologies, create an independent ethics committee, and improve transparency in government. This is the right course for reining-in state spending over the next four years.

McDonnell also presents a detailed, logical, workable plan for addressing our transportation crisis. It would be impossible for me to do it justice in this small space, but it is a refreshing mix of new, inventive ideas and simple common sense. To raise funds, he takes unnecessary tax increases off the table. Instead, he proposes a slew of new bond measures, dedication of a set percentage of the general fund to transportation each year, privatization of our state liquor stores, and much more. He also proposes establishing new toll roads—the only piece of his funding plan with which I strongly disagree.

With this funding, McDonnell proposes to prioritize transportation efforts based on their quantifiable benefits to Virginia taxpayers, reduce the time to complete high priority projects, better utilize the transportation infrastructure we already have, and develop a sustainable funding model for our transportation network. He would work to raise the speed limit on rural highways, implement a number of ‘spot improvements’ in bottleneck areas, improve traffic light timings, and more. These low-cost efforts are long overdue, and will provide immediate improvements while the ‘big picture’ projects are getting underway.

McDonnell’s transportation plan is a pure joy to read, and presents a mostly-correct approach for solving our transportation nightmare. I do, however, object to his proposals for more ill-advised toll road projects and ‘HOT’ toll lanes on our major thoroughfares. These will hurt more than they help. If anything, we should be eliminating the toll roads we have instead of establishing new ones. I urge McDonnell to seriously reconsider this part of his otherwise stellar plan.

On education, McDonnell also presents a much more viable plan than his opponent. He proposes to establish specialty schools for high-demand industries, focus on improving our underperforming schools, implement a slew of innovative new programs to make our schools relevant and modern, and—most importantly—provide our students with a real voucher program. Voucher programs, long supported by the Republican Party and a number of prominent Democrats (including President Barack Obama [D]), give low-income parents the opportunity to send their children to superior private and religious schools, if they choose. This gives our poorest students every opportunity to succeed.

Deeds is trustworthy on issues of public safety and has a moderate voting record with regard to the right to bear arms and other key civil rights issues, but on the biggest issues affecting Virginia he falls short. His transportation plan isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on, he cannot be trusted to reduce spending in Richmond or limit the growth of our state government, and his education plan is merely mediocre.

McDonnell, on the other hand, has a proven record of supporting smaller, more efficient government. He presents an excellent plan for transportation that does not recklessly increase taxes during a recession. He proposes an education plan that includes a proven and effective voucher program. The choice is clear for Virginians; I endorse the election of Attorney General Bob McDonnell as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.