HOTSEAT- Mansion-bound? AG explains why he'll be governor
Attorney General Bob McDonnell is pretty well known as a tough-on-crime AG who wants Tim Kaine's job as Virginia governor, and before that, as a conservative Republican former delegate his liberal-bloggin' critics nicknamed "Taliban Bob."
What we didn't know: He's funny.
Here September 25 at 8:30am for the Charlottesville Drug Court's 194th graduation, McDonnell deadpans, "I appreciate the opportunity to get up at 3 o'clock in the morning to come here and celebrate with you."
And he did– celebrate, that is (he really got up at 6am). While his law-and-order, three-strikes-you're-out persona might make some suppose he'd be more likely to push for life sentences for drug users, McDonnell likes drug court, and not just because it's cheaper than filling state prisons.
"It's a story to me about redemption, about second chances, about people taking responsibility for their own actions," he tells the courtroom packed with offenders, their family and friends, and prosecutors and cops.
"Follow the rule of law, follow the Golden Rule– and stay away from substance abuse," he advises.
McDonnell grew up near Mt. Vernon, and his first elected office was treasurer of his high school class. But that wasn't what started him on the path to the Governor's Mansion. "I was studying law and public policy, and I had an internship with a congressman from California," he says. Enamored with welfare reform and criminal justice, "I kind of got bitten by the bug," he says.
While working as a prosecutor in Virginia Beach, he ran for the House of Delegates in 1992 and won. "That surprised everyone," he admits.
His love of law and politics gel with the AG job. "I love running the state's law firm," he declares. "I'm the lawyer for the state, the General Assembly, and the governor."
He's also the judge when he issues opinions about what's constitutional in Virginia. In the General Assembly, McDonnell was known for his partisanship, but as AG, "I give advice on what the law is, not what I want," he says, citing as one of the most controversial his opinion during the 2006 budget impasse that the governor did not have the authority to issue money in the interim until a budget was passed.
And while he's always been in the marriage-is-between-a-man-and-a-woman camp, he's issued an opinion that it's okay for UVA to issue gym memberships to household members of a student or employee, even if they're not married, which benefits gay partnerships.
McDonnell went to Notre Dame University and got his law degree from Pat Robertson-founded Regent University. After 21 years in the Army, he retired as a lieutenant colonel. And in 2005, he narrowly won the attorney general job, defeating State Senator Creigh Deeds in a recount by just 360 votes.
The AG spot is often a stepping stone to running for governor, as is lieutenant governor. Fortunately for McDonnell, Bill Bolling will seek reelection as lieutenant governor, leaving the governor's seat wide open on the Republican side. "I'll give Bill Bolling enormous credit," says McDonnell.
And he's lovin' what's going on with the Dems, especially since former national party chair Terry McAuliffe is "acting more like a candidate every day," notes McDonnell, which means McAuliffe would have to duke it out in the primary next year with Delegate Brian Moran and Deeds. "By then they'll be tired and broke, and I'll be ready to go with money in the bank," he predicts.
Despite Virginia being hailed as a battleground state, McDonnell thinks it'll stay fiscally conservative and right-of-center. "Being the state co-chair for John McCain, you wouldn't expect me to say anything other than John McCain will win," he says.
The same day he's in Charlottesville, McDonnell announces a two percent salary cut for him and his top attorneys for six months, and that he's turning in his state-issued Ford Explorer– never mind that he drives a campaign-issued Ford Expedition. It's a move that's fiscally conservative and politically savvy in the face of a $2 billion shortfall.
And what about Virginia's looming deficit that will fall in the lap of whoever is elected governor in 2009? "I'm sure Tim Kaine will have it all cleaned up by then," he deadpans again.
What do you like best about Charlottesville? Monticello and the Lawn
Least? That it's not closer to Richmond
Favorite hangout here? Coy Barefoot's radio show on WINA every second Wednesday of the month from 4:30-5pm...shameless self promotion there!
Most overrated virtue? Brevity
People would be surprised to know about you: Was in the Guinness Book of World Records for several years in the category of stretcher carrying as part of a team that set the record while in the Army.
What would you change about yourself? My ability to manage time
Proudest accomplishment? The teamwork and performance of the Office of the Attorney General
People find most annoying about you: Tend to micromanage
Whom do you admire? George Washington
Favorite book? The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw
Subject that causes you to rant? Wasting taxpayer money
Biggest 21st-century thrill? The Blackberry
Biggest 21st-century creep out? Online crime
What do you drive? Ford Expedition
In your car CD player right now: Selah
Next journey? A 14-month trip around the Commonwealth.... hopefully ending at the Governor's office!
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? No comment
Regret: Not exercising more
Favorite comfort food: Doritos
Always in your refrigerator: Hot dogs
Must-see TV: Notre Dame football games
Describe a perfect day: Hiking in the mountains with my family
Walter Mitty fantasy: Dunking a basketball
Who'd play you in the movie? A younger Robert Redford....hey I'm casting this thing.
Most embarrassing moment? No comment....again an office holder's favorite two words.
Best advice you ever got? Work hard and get a good education. Advice from my father
Favorite bumper sticker? Bob McDonnell for Governor