Progressive Voice: Bob McDonnell’s Judgment

Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or

This week, the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit turned down former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s request for a rehearing en banc (by all of the Circuit’s judges) of his conviction on public corruption charges. McDonnell now has only one hope left for overturning his conviction – the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court hears only a small fraction of the requests it receives.

In all likelihood, the former Governor will soon begin serving his two-year sentence in a federal prison. One might expect that as a Democrat, I would be pleased to see Bob McDonnell’s fall from a potential Vice Presidential candidate to a likely federal prisoner. I am not.

Certainly I don’t condone the actions that led to McDonnell’s conviction and I do not quarrel with the unanimous jury verdict.

And I have had major disagreements with many of McDonnell’s issue positions during his career as an elected official and actions he took as Attorney General and Governor.

Yet I had a chance to work closely with McDonnell and his senior staff while he was in statewide office and found that it was possible to find common ground to move Virginia forward and serve the interests of the Commonwealth’s residents.

As Counselor to the Governor, one of my roles was to serve as liaison to the Office of the Attorney General. We worked across party lines on a range of issues of importance to Virginia – among them were budgeting, transportation, criminal justice/law enforcement, restoration of rights, matters affecting the military and veterans, mental health reforms, immigration, and the Commonwealth’s response to the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

In some instances, the Governor and Attorney General were largely in agreement. In others, their positions were very different.

Yet no matter the situation, we found that the Commonwealth was better served if we looked for as much common ground as possible, worked through our differences to understand each other’s positions, aired our differences with respect for each other and the offices in which we served, and made sure that once decisions were made by the executive, legislative or judicial branches that we worked to implement those decisions as effectively and efficiently as possible.

We worked closely together – even through differing legal interpretations of the Governor’s powers — to help insure that the Commonwealth did not suffer a government shutdown during a budget and possible constitutional crisis in 2006. That crisis was averted by the signing of a budget on the last possible day before a shutdown began. Many residents in Arlington and across Virginia would have suffered had we failed.

Also, we worked together on a 2007 transportation package that put in place many funding sources that are beginning to have an impact of transit and other transportation improvements in Arlington and throughout Northern Virginia. Although regional funding pieces of that package were thrown out by the Supreme Court of Virginia, many were corrected and put back in place as part of McDonnell’s landmark 2013 transportation package.

McDonnell and his team were also allies in Governor Kaine’s successful effort to secure federal funding and develop a construction plan for Phase I of the Silver Line that began operation in 2014 with significant transit and economic benefits for Arlington and across Northern Virginia.

We also worked together in responding to the terrible tragedy on the Virginia Tech campus in April 2007. The Commonwealth’s response included a creative and comprehensive settlement with families who suffered the loss of loved ones and surviving victims, mental health reforms, closing a loophole on the acquisition of guns by those found mentally incompetent, developing improved protocols for first responders, and developing more effective campus security measures.

While McDonnell and I disagree – often strongly — on what government should do, we have agreed that what government does it should do so effectively and efficiently. He was not a conservative who was happy when government failed to do its job.

It is not easy to know how and why some leaders put themselves in harm’s way. Yet in watching McDonnell’s fall, I also want to remember ways in which he served the Commonwealth well.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice. A resident of Arlington for over 30 years, he also spent four years in Richmond as Counselor to Governor Tim Kaine and chaired successful statewide campaigns in 2005 and 2012.

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