Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

McDonnell didn't promise to win battles with the General Assembly

Gov. Bob McDonnell, shown here at his Janaury 2010 inauguration, made 48 campaign promises that we've been tracking.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, shown here at his Janaury 2010 inauguration, made 48 campaign promises that we've been tracking.


Not all of the campaign promises kept by Gov. Bob McDonnell have brought change to Virginia.

And not all of the vows he’s fulfilled have produced the policies he desired.

Through the Bob-O-Meter, PolitiFact Virginia has been tracking 48 promises McDonnell made during his 2009 campaign. We defined a promise as a pledge for action. Whenever he used the word "will" -- i.e. "We will open shuttered rest stops on Virginia interstates" -- we put it in our list.

So far, we’ve assessed the governor’s follow through on 39 pledges and have rated 18 of them as a Promise Kept. One reason for good marks is that McDonnell often qualified promises that required cooperation from the General Assembly.

McDonnell pledged that he would have certain bills introduced in the General Assembly but stopped short of vowing he would make sure they passed. Having served 14 years in the House of Delegates, McDonnell apparently knew better than to guarantee results from often unpredictable legislators. There’s an old saying around the Capitol: "The governor proposes and the legislature disposes."

As result, McDonnell has twice received a Promise Kept for proposing unpopular bills that died in the General Assembly without coming up for a vote: one that would have privatized state liquor stores and another that would have increased penalties for crimes against the elderly. These were defeats for the governor.

There is another time we gave McDonnell credit for keeping a promise by proposing a bill that was never voted on, but in this case, the legislature didn’t appear opposed to his idea. He asked the General Assembly in 2010 to approve tougher penalties for identity theft. The state was emerging from recession then and legislators were reluctant to pass a bill that would drive up costs by increasing the number of inmates. A similar bill has been introduced this year and its sponsor -- Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle -- expects it to pass.

Three times, we’ve given McDonnell a Promise Kept for proposing legislation that the General Assembly watered down before approving: easing procedures for establishing charter schools; expanding the use of adult trials for youths repeatedly charged with violent felonies and lengthening prison sentences for drug dealers. The governor, willing to compromise, signed each of these bills.

McDonnell, we should note, still has charter schools on his agenda. In his State of the Commonwealth address on Jan. 9, he said would push for a constitutional amendment that would allow the state Board of Education to authorize charter applications. The decision now rests with local school systems.

Sometimes, McDonnell has fulfilled a pledge and gotten everything he wanted. The General Assembly has passed -- largely intact -- McDonnell proposals to raise the maximum speed limit on rural stretches of highway to 70 mph, consolidate criminal asset forfeiture laws and increase crime conviction fees.

The General Assembly has just begun its final session under McDonnell. We’ll keep the Bob-O-Meter cranking, mindful that the governor can keep some of his campaign promises without achieving results.