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Robert McDonnell is sworn in as Virginia governor

By Anita Kumar and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, January 17, 2010; A01

RICHMOND -- Robert Francis McDonnell was sworn in as Virginia's 71st governor on Saturday and immediately laid out his vision of a new Republicanism. He affirmed that government has a role in creating opportunity, but a limited one; pledged to drill offshore for oil, but in an environmentally friendly way; and urged all Virginians to contribute their cultures and traditions to the state's increasing diversity.

McDonnell said that creating jobs was the "obligation of our time" and that he would ease regulations and lower taxes on businesses. He promised to put more money into classrooms, try to add 100,000 college degrees during the next 15 years, improve the state's transportation network and use what he described as Virginia's God-given wealth of resources to make it the "Energy Capital of the East Coast."

In a 22-minute speech that evoked the legacies of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, McDonnell said that it is the rightful role of government to create opportunity for all Virginians but that it is up to individuals to fulfill that opportunity.

"The circumstances of our time demand that we reconsider and restore the proper and efficient role of government," McDonnell said before a crowd of thousands at the South Portico of the state's historic Capitol.

Shortly after being sworn in, McDonnell signed two executive orders that underscored the main themes of his speech. One named a chief job creation officer and established an economic development and job creation commission. The other established a commission on government reform.

McDonnell made no mention of divisive social issues, and his speech included little partisan talk. Instead, it was full of references to Democrats, including President Obama, former president John F. Kennedy, former governor L. Douglas Wilder and McDonnell's predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine. Yet, McDonnell did not stray from core conservative beliefs, stressing the need to keep taxes low, regulation at a minimum and federal mandates scarce.

"No federal mandate nor program crafted by either political party should undermine the central principle of federalism, enshrined in the birth certificate of America by those who pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor," he said.

His speech was well received by Republicans, and parts were praised by Democrats, including state legislators who returned to Richmond last week for a 60-day session and will begin working with the new governor right away.

House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) praised the speech for laying out Republicans ideals: "Limited government. Relying on individual effort and entrepreneurship to move the ball forward, and also that the government can't do everything, so you ought to be encouraged to contribute."

Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania) said the speech "had a very solid Democratic Party theme to it: the progressive ideas and the opportunity and the outreach." But he said: "The only question is, how do you pay for all those wonderful ideas? I sort of left the speech with the sense that he would like to be progressive and make things happen. But he's going to be faced with the same challenges that faced Tim Kaine. You've got an economy that simply won't allow it."

McDonnell, the state's first Republican governor in eight years, takes office in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression. He faces a projected two-year, $4.2 billion shortfall in the state budget and a political culture in Richmond beset by the same partisan infighting that in many ways stymied his Democratic predecessor.

McDonnell, 55, took the oath of office at 12:30 p.m., minutes after Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who were part of November's victorious Republican ticket.

Virginia Supreme Court Justice Barbara Milano Keenan became the first woman to swear in a Virginia governor when she administered the oath, which McDonnell took with his hand on a Latin Vulgate Bible that had been presented to his great-grandparents on their wedding day in 1876 at St. John's Parish in Peabody, Mass.

Immediately after McDonnell took the oath, members of the Virginia National Guard fired off a 19-gun howitzer salute and four F-22s roared overhead. Kaine and his wife, Anne Holton, stood up quietly and left, as Virginia tradition dictates, heading to their Richmond home for a neighborhood party.

In November, McDonnell won a landslide victory over his Democratic opponent, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (Bath), running as a pragmatic leader who could work across party lines to solve the state's economic problems.

Just four days shy of the first anniversary of Obama's inauguration in Washington, Saturday's events represented a dramatic shift in the political landscape of a state that in recent years had backed a series of Democrats in state and national elections.

In addition to sweeping the state's top three offices, Republicans picked up six seats in the House of Delegates. Only the state Senate is under Democratic control.

"Oh, what a difference a year makes," said Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun). "People got disillusioned. There were unreasonable expectations at the presidential level. And, boy, it didn't take long."

As he walked toward the Capitol on Saturday, a jubilant Michael S. Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said he hoped lessons learned in Virginia could be used in Massachusetts' special Senate election Tuesday. "Bob McDonnell's campaign for governor should serve as a shining example for all Republicans looking for success in 2010," he said.

McDonnell provided few specifics of how he would fulfill the vision he laid out, but he is expected to provide more detail Monday night, when he delivers his first speech to a joint session of the General Assembly. Aides said he will present policy proposals, including plans to create jobs, reform education and reopen highway rest stops shuttered because of budget cuts.

"The only specifics he really offered were about privatizing services, which is not an adequate substitute for the core services of government," said Del. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria). "But on a day like today, it's hard to criticize our new governor. His speech set a tone that we can all work with."

All but one of Virginia's eight living governors attended the festivities, as did U.S. Sen. James Webb (D), former U.S. senator John W. Warner (R) and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D).

Other dignitaries included seven of Virginia's 11 members of the U.S. House, former attorney general William C. Mims and former lieutenant governor John H. Hager. Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson was seated in the bleachers with the public, rather than on the portico with McDonnell despite their longtime friendship. Robertson was criticized last week for saying after Haiti's devastating earthquake, that a "pact with the devil" had caused the country to be cursed.

About 120 members of McDonnell's family attended the inauguration, including his 93-year-old father, who has Alzheimer's disease and lives in a Northern Virginia facility. McDonnell's eldest daughter, Jeanine, an Iraq war Army veteran who campaigned with her father, sang the national anthem.

After the swearing-in ceremony, a parade spilled onto the streets of downtown Richmond. Many of the participating 47 groups have significance for McDonnell and first lady Maureen McDonnell, a former Washington Redskins cheerleader.

The new governor's high school, Bishop Ireton in Alexandria, and Notre Dame, where he was an undergraduate, were represented, as was his American Legion Post in Virginia Beach. The Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Alumni Association and Hoggettes and the Washington Redskins Marching Band also joined the parade.

On Saturday night, hundreds donned tuxedos and gowns for an inaugural ball at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.

The inaugural festivities will continue Sunday. Maureen McDonnell will hold a brunch in a downtown Richmond hotel at noon, and the first family will host an open house at the governor's mansion from 2 to 5 p.m.

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