Thursday, November 19, 2009

Okay, now what?

As a result of this month’s elections, Virginians now have split government.

At the state level The Party That Has No Intention of Governing represents us and at the national level The Party That Is Afraid to Govern represents us.

At the state level, that might work out okay over the next four years.

Based on the most recent reports of tax revenue collected, the Fiscal Year 2010 budget is going to be at least $1.6 billion out of balance when the General Assembly convenes in January. Once that problem is fixed, we can look forward to continuing budget gaps in the FY 2011-12 budget, which will be passed this year. The shortfalls in that budget could reach $3 billion by the end of the biennium, unless the economy turns around more forcefully than anyone is now predicting.

In that climate, there’s not going to be much governing done. So voters may have put the right party in charge by electing Bob McDonnell governor and leaving a Republican majority in control of the House of Delegates.

The next governor and General Assembly are going to have to go at the budget with a hatchet. Both the previous Democratic governor’s Mark Warner and Tim Kaine had to go through rounds of budget cuts – but at least Republicans should enjoy it.

Because, according to their political rhetoric, they are the party that wants a smaller government that does less.

Now is their chance.

Those nagging problems that the state has faced for a decade, like transportation funding, teacher salaries, mental health funding, low unemployment compensation?

Forget about them.

At least for the next four years.

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ten things about Tuesday’s elections

1. A year is an eternity in politics – Who would have thought on election night 2008, when Mark Warner destroyed Jim Gilmore in a U.S. Senate race, Democrats won the majority of Congressional seats in Virginia and Barack Obama became the first Democrat to carry Virginia in a presidential election since 1964, that election night 2009 would feature a landslide statewide sweep by Virginia Republicans? That should put in perspective claims that Tuesday’s elections serve as a preview of what will happen in next year’s mid-term Congressional elections. A lot can happen in a year.

2. What Creigh Deeds and Mary Sue Terry have in common – Tuesday’s election was similar to 1993, when George Allen won in a landslide over Mary Sue Terry. In both cases, a large percentage of blame was placed on an “unpopular” Democratic president. In both cases a bad economy, which forced an increasingly unpopular Democratic governor to repeatedly make cuts in the state budget, probably had more to do with the results. Bill Clinton in 1993 and Obama this year are being blamed for the loss. Probably a bad rap in both cases. While Clinton was genuinely unpopular in Virginia in 1993, Obama’s approval rating is equal to the share of the vote he garnered last year, about 53%. Exit polls Tuesday showed that 70% of Virginia votes said the president didn’t have anything to do with their vote for governor. Of course the coalition that elected Obama, young people, African-Americans and suburban independents, either didn’t show up for Deeds Tuesday or voted for Republican Bob McDonnell. That has a lot to do with a slow economy and the resulting loss of status of Gov. Tim Kaine. Like Doug Wilder’s, Kaine’s troubles came home to roost for his potential Democratic successor. One reason that happened is that Deeds, like Terry, ran a miserable campaign.

3. Virginians won’t vote for the “mean guy” - Deeds’ campaign never gave anyone a reason to vote for him, concentrating on reasons to vote against McDonnell. That was a critical mistake. Although McDonnell’s college thesis, which evidenced hostility to working women, gays, unmarried fornicators and divorce, served a purpose for the Deeds campaign in cutting into McDonnell’s lead, the Democrats never followed it up with a positive message. They just kept pounding the thesis story. Most voters indicated that they thought Deeds was running a negative campaign. Uh oh. As 2005 loser Jerry Kilgore could have told Deeds, that won’t work in Virginia. You can make comparisons, you can even go a little bit negative, but if Virginia voters think you’ve been rude or mean, you’re toast.

4. Will the “McDonnell model” catch on with the national GOP? – McDonnell won by running as a moderate, mainstream candidate primarily interested in pocketbook issues, as “Bob for Jobs.” That’s not who he had been for 14 years in the legislature, when he was much more interested in bills restricting abortion and making it more difficult to get a divorce than he was in generating jobs. But it’s the image he made stick with voters through a nearly error-free campaign. He disassociated himself from the screamers on the right, the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party who are busy yelling “Socialist” at a president who hasn’t even shown himself as much of a liberal yet. He didn’t even criticize Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, which seemed to befuddle the president himself. The other model for Republicans is to go full “old mad white guy” and embrace the Glen Beck/Rush Limbaugh model of conservatism. That didn’t work out so well for them in New York’s 23rd Congressional District, where a Tea Party type forced the mainstream Republican out of the race and Democrats captured a seat that Republicans had held for more than 100 years.

5. Democrats should remember those Republican “part-time governor lines – I know Bob McDonnell. He’s an ambitious guy. I wouldn’t be surprised if next spring, after the General Assembly has finished its work, we see him start to accept speaking engagements in Iowa and New Hampshire and other early 2012 presidential primary battlegrounds. His victory Tuesday makes him one of the brightest new stars in the Republican universe. He could attract a good deal of support. He combines Mike Huckabee’s appeal to the Religious Right with Mitt Romney’s slickness and ability to run to the middle, without Romney’s documented record of flip-flops or Mormon religion. Even if McDonnell chooses not to explore the presidential waters, he’d be an attractive vice presidential candidate, particularly for a nominee like Romney or Sarah Palin, who comes from outside the GOP’s Dixie base camp.

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