|The Virginia Governor's Mansion, Built in 1813|
Since that time, Virginia has seen seventy-one Governors. They included men like Patrick Henry and future presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, and John Tyler.
Only two Virginia Governors have not finished their terms voluntarily. John Tyler resigned when he was elected to the U.S. Senate and George Smith died at the end of the first year of his term. No Governor has ever resigned in scandal – ever.
Other states have not been as fortunate. Illinois has lost four of their last seven Governors to felony indictments. North Carolina’s ex-governor was convicted of a felony relating to failure to properly disclose a helicopter ride in 2010. Alabama’s Governor was just released from prison this year after being indicted in 2006.
Northern Virginians also know the difference a river can make. The District of Columbia’s Mayor is under scrutiny related to a "shadow" election campaign, among other things. Marion Barry was just fined $12,000 for illegal gifts last week and is on his second political life after being caught by the FBI smoking crack. One councilman recently resigned after paying for a car with campaign funds and the County’s Executive just across the Potomac from the 44th District recently went to prison after his wife was caught flushing checks down the toilet and $80,000 in her bra. Virginia has been spared these kinds of embarrassments – until now.
Serving as the Governor of the oldest government in the western hemisphere is a great honor and privilege. Along with that honor comes a responsibility to be transparent, honest and to conduct the public's business with the highest integrity.
I am dumbfounded by our current Governor's personal behavior. Governor Robert McDonnell shares local Mt. Vernon ties and a public reverence for George Washington who was a foundational pillar of American integrity. He did not stand for corruption or using campaign donors to enrich his lifestyle. The total amount of undisclosed cash, loans, gifts and miscategorized transactions involved in the McDonnell Family's emerging scheme - $270,000 - is shocking, and the number of transactions involved is outrageous.
The public have cannot have confidence in a Governor's honesty, integrity, and duty to act in the best interest of the Commonwealth if he takes two separate “loans," each larger than what most Virginians earn in one year, one Rolex, a New York shopping spree, gifts for two weddings for two separate daughters spread over a period of years from a wealthy donor who is litigating a million-dollar tax dispute with our state and seeking validation for his diet supplement business to boost stock prices.
His decision to place his signature, each year, under oath, on a misleading financial disclosures cannot be explained as momentary singular judgment lapses. They were a repeated part of a broader personal, and possibly family, decision to secretly benefit from public office over a period of time.
These decisions strike deeply into the heart of the integrity of his decision-making and destroy the public’s confidence in his ability to make decisions in Virginia's best interests. They also point to the conclusion that he and his family did it not because they were naïve or unsophisticated, but because they read the law closely, were sophisticated, thought they deserved it and could get away with it by splitting fine legal lines.
The legislative branch has a sworn independent responsibility to address corruption and malfeasance when we see them independent of criminal investigations. As Senator Chap Petersen said two weeks ago, silence implies acquiescence, and I cannot continue to stand silently. It’s time for Governor Robert McDonnell to resign so the Commonwealth can continue its focus on improving the lives of its citizens, and he can shift his focus to resolving his family's mounting legal problems.
It's also time for other members of the legislature to remember their oath to the Virginians they represent and speak up as well. If he has not resigned by the end of this week, then other measures should be on the table.