McDonnell to tour state amid scandal

August 6, 2013

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is about to embark on the sort of cross-commonwealth victory lap that term-limited Virginia governors typically take as their four-year stints wind down.

But McDonnell (R), who announced Tuesday his plans for a week-long statewide tour starting Friday, will travel the commonwealth under unusual circumstances. Unlike any of his modern predecessors, McDonnell takes his long goodbye as the subject of federal and state investigations.

He will visit a highway that he bankrolled in Breaks, a vineyard he promoted in Machipongo and a Civil War battlefield he helped preserve in Leesburg. But McDonnell will do that while investigators explore his relationship with a businessman who provided luxury gifts and loans to his family.

All that could make McDonnell’s “This Commonwealth of Opportunity” tour look less like a horn-tooting gubernatorial tradition and more like a chance to change the subject, said Bob Holsworth, a former Virginia Commonwealth University professor and longtime Richmond political observer.

“He’d prefer to have a victory lap as opposed to taking this long dash away from town,” Holsworth said.

Timeline: Star Scientific and Gov. McDonnell

McDonnell’s trip last month to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan had a similar get-out-of-town air to it, Holsworth said. While McDonnell was en route and unavailable for comment, his office announced that he was apologizing for the scandal and repaying Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie R. Williams Sr. $120,000 in loans.

This tour will be an opportunity for McDonnell to highlight all that he has accomplished in his 3 1 / 2 years in office.

“The tour, which begins in Salem and concludes in Leesburg, will highlight Virginia’s successes over the past three and a half years[,] including a falling unemployment rate, rebounding shellfish industry, transportation breakthroughs, open space conservation achievements, increased agricultural exports, and educational innovations to benefit Virginia’s students, teachers and parents,” McDonnell’s office said in a statement announcing the tour.

“The tour will take the governor, and members of the cabinet, from Virginia’s highest bridge in Buchanan County in the mountains of Southwest Virginia to a vineyard located between the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean on the Eastern Shore. Along the way the tour will be stopping everywhere from Civil War battlefields to growing research universities to 21st century technology companies.”

In a statement, McDonnell said: “[T]he last three and a half years have witnessed significant progress being made in addressing the challenges facing our citizens in their daily lives. Virginia has more jobs; Virginians have more opportunities. I look forward to traveling the state in the days ahead to see some of these successes first-hand, and to learn more about what we can continue to do in Richmond to improve the lives of all Virginians.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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