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Va. Gov. McDonnell reaches out to Democrats but leaves much unsaid

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By Robert McCartney
Sunday, January 17, 2010

RICHMOND

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If Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell can deliver a four-year administration worthy of the pragmatic spirit and inclusive tone of his inaugural address Saturday, he could move the Republican Party in the state toward the moderate center and prove the GOP's beloved thesis that small government can deliver practical results.

He was pretty fuzzy on some key issues, though. He didn't say clearly how he's going to deal with the pain of sharp spending cuts that he needs to make in coming weeks, or how and when he's going to launch the transportation reforms that were a centerpiece of his campaign.

Also, McDonnell's generally bipartisan approach was undermined when he displayed sympathy for the conservative "Tea Party" agenda of resisting the federal government on behalf of state's rights. These warning signs raise questions about whether it's realistic to expect that McDonnell's proclaimed "Commonwealth of Opportunity" will meet its goals.

McDonnell, who took the gubernatorial oath on a gloriously sunny and mild day in front of the stately Capitol building, laid out a vision for government that would lead Virginia forward by shrinking and becoming less burdensome to the public.

Lower taxes and less regulation will spur job growth, he said. New charter schools will help build a workforce for the future. The private sector can make Virginia the "Energy Capital of the East Coast" by producing more natural gas, coal and nuclear power.

"Without reform, the continued growth of government threatens our very prosperity," he warned, adding that his policies are "focused on addressing the real problems our people face and delivering results."

One of McDonnell's senior political advisers predicted that he would combine the best attributes of two of his three predecessors.

"As his campaign suggested, you can expect him to be something of a mixture of a policy reformer like [Republican] George Allen, combined with the bipartisan, consensus-building style of [Democrat] Mark Warner," said Frank B. Atkinson, a partner at the McGuireWoods law firm in Richmond.

In both rhetoric and theatrics, McDonnell avoided pushing conservative social issues that have been divisive in the past.

The speech included no reference to abortion or same-sex marriage. Despite having warned of the dangers of working women in his 1989 master's thesis, he was sworn in by a female Supreme Court justice. He made his original political mentor, the controversial televangelist Pat Robertson, sit with hoi polloi rather than on the portico with the other A-list dignitaries.


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