Virginia governor-elect McDonnell plans inauguration that is low-key

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010

RICHMOND -- Robert F. McDonnell, the incoming governor of Virginia, donned an apron Wednesday and packed food with volunteers and other political leaders at a food bank in a converted tobacco warehouse on the outskirts of the capital. On Thursday, he visited a homeless shelter in Alexandria and a jail in Richmond. A week ago, he pitched in at a food bank in Abingdon.

In the countdown to his inauguration Saturday, McDonnell, 55, has taken pains to show his sensitivity to out-of-work Virginians who don't feel like partying as much as the Republicans returning to power after eight years' drought. He also has talked up the importance of charity as he and the General Assembly prepare for a legislative session whose overriding mission is closing a potential budget gap of $4.2 billion over the next two years.

McDonnell cut his salary and asked his Cabinet secretaries to do the same, and he has announced that he would raise less money for the inauguration than his predecessor. His black-tie inaugural balls and parade will have portable bins to drop coats for the Salvation Army and provisions for Virginia's food banks to draw attention to the plight of many Virginians.

"It was an overriding discussion point throughout the inaugural planning," McDonnell said in an interview.

Democrats say McDonnell has also been reaching out to them in a way that contrasts sharply with the last two Republicans who got the keys to the governor's mansion. Those were the days when Gov. James S. Gilmore III crowed "free at last" because the GOP had swept Democrats out of control of the General Assembly, and Gov. George Allen promised that his trademark cowboy boots would dislodge some Democratic teeth.

One other interesting touch: Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Milano Keenan will administer the oath of office to McDonnell, who took fire during the campaign for a 20-year-old master's thesis that said working women and feminism were "detrimental" to the family.

McDonnell's inaugural staff said Keenan, who has been nominated for a federal appeals court post by President Obama, would be the first woman to swear in a Virginia governor.

"I'd give him pretty high marks," said House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry), who tagged along at McDonnell's invitation to FeedMore, an umbrella organization for Richmond food banks and Meals on Wheels. "It's important for us to try, as we start off, to get along. Contrast it with Jim Gilmore."

Of course, other Virginia governors, including Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), have performed community service, and McDonnell's decision to scale back could reflect economic realities as well as a legal change that now prohibits transferring leftover inaugural funds to campaign committees.

There will still be plenty of pomp. The Virginia Military Institute's 1,400 cadets, the Notre Dame Irish Guard, the Washington Redskins marching band and cheerleaders alumni and the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets' Highty-Tighties will join the parade on Saturday. The Virginia National Guard will perform a flyover with F-22 fighter jets. Even the weather is expected to be moderate, with the National Weather Service forecasting sunshine and temperatures in the 50s.

Low-key inaugural festivities have long been the rule in Virginia, which traditionally considered its chief executive to be an honorary appendage of the legislature and never went in much for big to-dos to inaugurate him.

Patrick Henry, who served as first governor of the independent commonwealth, took the oath of office while gravely ill and perhaps on his sickbed. There were no ceremonies, parades or speeches. Thomas Jefferson took the oath of office and then a four-day vacation.


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