“…Whenever you are to do a thing tho’ it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, & act accordingly.”
—Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, Aug. 19, 1785
Now that Gov. Bob McDonnell stands locked at the center of a public scandal, Virginia’s corner of the world is looking at the first family and the acts that they never expected “to be known.”
Members of the family accepted lavish gifts from a friend and political donor, even as the donor was involved in a tax lawsuit against Virginia and trying to persuade the commonwealth to accept his company’s product into the state’s health care plan.
Some of those gifts made their way to the governor himself. At long last, Mr. McDonnell says he will return them.
The governor not only should return the gifts to their giver.
He should return the office of governor to the people of Virginia.
It is time for Bob McDonnell to resign.
Having endorsed Mr. McDonnell for governor nearly four years ago, it gives us no pleasure now to urge him to resign. Our reasons for this extraordinary step are both philosophical and practical.
» Mr. McDonnell asserts that he has done nothing wrong regarding his and his family’s association with gift-giver Jonnie S. Williams Sr., whose company — Star Scientific — is the subject of a federal securities investigation.
His assertion shows that he’s missed the point. This isn’t about parsing of the law to prove absence of wrongdoing. It’s about ethical standards.
The governor has repeatedly demonstrated blindness to the importance of the scandal, apparently because there is no true north in his ethical compass. For all practical purposes, he ignored the growing scandal for months. He shilly-shallied about giving back the numerous gifts and loans he received, only recently vowing to do so. Last week, he further demonstrated his lack of comprehension of the gravity of this issue when he opposed the call for a special session to address stricter limits on gifts to public officials, even as momentum for such a solution was building.
» Even if no law was broken, as a practical matter of governance it no longer matters. Mr. McDonnell’s effectiveness is at an end. Worse, Mr. McDonnell has become an outright liability to the commonwealth and its citizens.
By his own admission, Mr. McDonnell has brought “embarrassment” to Virginia. But embarrassment isn’t the least of it: His legal and political problems distract him from serving the commonwealth.
Already diminished in power as a lame-duck governor, he is further wounded by his need to divert much of his time to rebutting his critics and dealing with his lawyers (for whom taxpayers are footing the bill, ironically).
For months, he has accomplished little of note in the way of advancing Virginia’s agenda of progress. His current schedule is heavy on public relations activities — visiting troops, endorsing adoption, showing up for an anti-crime event. These are worthy endeavors, of course.
But a governor’s association with good causes should be for the purpose of bringing them added attention through the stature of his name and office. The ironic truth is that it appears that Mr. McDonnell is using these associations with good causes to gain advantage for himself, rather than to convey it; he needs the positive publicity more than they do. This is a telling reversal of fortune.
» What’s more, the issue of ethical behavior has become a primary focus in the gubernatorial race now underway.
We are only months away from a critically important gubernatorial election, in which both major-party candidates have floundered through their own ethics problems.
A company formerly headed by Democrat Terry McAuliffe now is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission over its use of a program that allows foreign nationals to enter the U.S. if they invest at least $500,000 to create jobs. Mr. McAuliffe says he left the company late last year to run for governor and did not know about the investigation.
Republican Ken Cuccinelli received his own list of gifts from Star Scientific’s Jonnie Williams. Gifts to Mr. McDonnell’s family were not required to be reported under Virginia law; gifts to Attorney General Cuccinelli were required to be reported. However, Mr. Cuccinelli “forgot” to list them, to use his explanation. An independent review sought by Mr. Cuccinelli himself resulted in a finding that he did not violate the law.
However, as with Mr. McDonnell, the critical element for Mr. Cuccinelli isn’t necessarily technical obedience to some state statute. Instead, the critical element needs to be a clear sense of ethics and an adherence to high standards.
The missteps and misjudgments of the two major-party candidates are complex, but urgent, issues. Voters must focus on understanding these issues, and on weighing the candidates and their fitness for office. The health of the commonwealth depends on it.
Mr. McDonnell’s actions and attitudes of recent months have eviscerated public confidence in him. It’s high time to restore confidence in the office, if it cannot be restored in the man.
Mr. McDonnell’s resignation would elevate Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to the governor’s seat. Mr. Bolling is a respected and highly experienced leader, with a reputation for fairness and a centrist philosophy that would be a welcome relief from hyper-partisan politics.
This is an extraordinary time in Virginia’s history.
And it is also because of that history that we take this extraordinary stance.
The commonwealth has a long and illustrious record of good government, tracing to some of the most celebrated advocates of democracy and patriotism in the national pantheon.
Perhaps our recently experienced scandals and suspicions, controversies and crises, would scarcely raise an eyebrow in another state. But this is Virginia.
We expect better from our leaders. We expect a finely tuned sense of ethics; we expect a highly raised bar of excellence.
We are no longer receiving the high level of leadership we deserve.
Gov. Bob McDonnell should resign so that, under its Constitution, Virginia might have the opportunity to restore that standard of integrity.