MANASSAS, Va. —
Gov. Bob McDonnell’s idea to sell the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control stores to help pay for transportation projects hasn’t gotten a lot of traction in the Virginia General Assembly, but he’s not ready to give up on the idea yet.
“It’s an old idea, but it’s a good idea,” McDonnell said in an interview Tuesday with the News Messenger and InsideNoVa.com.
McDonnell said that two-thirds of the states have privatized liquor sales, and Virginia should too.
“It’s the only legal product in Virginia that the government’s got a monopoly over, so it’s just a bad idea from a philosophical standpoint. We already privatize beer and wine, but not distilled spirits. That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
McDonnell figures the sale of the stores would bring up to $300 million up front and maybe another $15 million or so a year, but both Republicans and Democrats have been resistant to the idea.
He said he realized he had a “sales job” on his hands to get things moving.
“The General Assembly just isn’t as smart as I am on this one,” he said with a smile.
Among other things, McDonnell answered questions about partisan politics, term limits, the national attention Virginia gained over some high-profile issues during this year’s General Assembly session and speculation that he might be on the short list for vice president.
The controversial issues that shoved Virginia into the national spotlight included requiring ultrasounds of women seeking abortions and new gun laws.
A bill was initially introduced that would have required women to submit to a transvaginal procedure before they could have an abortion.
That bill was later toned down so that women would be required to have the so-called “jelly-on-the-belly” ultra sound.
The General Assembly also eliminated the one gun a month limit.
McDonnell said those bills got more attention than was warranted.
He said that at least 860 bills got to his desk and less than 10 of them dealt with abortion, adoption or guns.
“What got a lot of attention was a handful of bills on guns or abortion or some other issue, because there were differences between the parties. There were deeply held views that were aired publicly,” McDonnell said. “Unfortunately, when everyone agrees, it doesn’t get a lot of press.”
Talk show hosts, including Jon Stewart, jumped on the legislation for several nights running. McDonnell said he expected nothing less of them.
“That’s what the late-night comedians are there for, to poke fun and entertain people,” he said. “We don’t govern Virginia according to what late-night talk shows say.”
When the General Assembly convened in January, it did so with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and a tie in the Virginia Senate.
At the time, McDonnell told Republicans, “Don’t be arrogant. Don’t overreach.” He told Democrats “Don’t be angry. Don’t obstruct.”
Some would say that neither side heeded his advice.
McDonnell differed on that assessment and said that the majority of the legislation got bipartisan support.
He said that government at the federal level was more contentious with a $15 trillion debt and an 8-percent unemployment rate that left the U.S. Congress with an 11 percent approval rating.
“There is a lot of the blame game and finger pointing, and I think to some degree we’ve evaded a lot of that in Richmond,” he said. “To be the most business friendly state and to have a balanced budget and 5.6 percent unemployment rate, took Republicans and Democrats working together. Everybody deserves credit.”
Virginia governors are limited to one 4-year term in office, and McDonnell said he’s never been a big fan of term limits, calling them an “arbitrary line in the sand’ that prevented people with a knowledge base and institutional memory from continuing to govern.
He also said that term limits destroy continuity and might contribute to an imbalance of power between the legislative and executive branch.
“I’ve never really thought, overall, that term limits were good. I think in a way it’s insulting to democracy. If somebody is doing a good job, keep them in there. If they’re not, fire ’em. That’s the way it ought to be,” he said.
On the issue of running as vice president with Mitt Romney in November, McDonnell said he’s satisfied with being governor of Virginia.
“I’ve got the job held by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry. They were the first two governors of Virginia and I still pinch myself most mornings that I’ve got this phenomenal privilege,” said McDonnell, who described himself as an average, middle class kid from Fairfax County.
He said he has campaigned for Romney in Virginia and other states, and would continue to do what he could for the former Massachusetts governor and the party.
“If a candidate comes and says, ‘You can help our party. You can help our country. I need your help,’ of course you’re going to consider helping him,” he said.
Still, he’s not looking for the job.
“I’m not expecting it. I’m not asking for it.”
Senior reporter Keith Walker can be reached at 703-369-6751.