Virginia governor extends moderate approach to Cabinet picks

Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) appointed several people with business backgrounds.
Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) appointed several people with business backgrounds. (Steve Helber/associated Press)
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By Anita Kumar
Washington Post staff writer
Sunday, February 7, 2010

RICHMOND -- Virginia's new governor, Robert F. McDonnell, hand picked a team of top advisers that mostly reflects the moderate, pragmatic approach the conservative politician took during his campaign.

The Republican's racially and geographically diverse Cabinet of 15 men and women includes no Democrats, few social conservatives and some who do not consider themselves politically active at all.

McDonnell said he selected secretaries based on qualifications, not political ideology or agenda, and that sometimes he made the hiring decision without knowing which party an applicant was affiliated with.

"I think what I'm more interested in is competence and results than ideology,'' he said in an interview, adding that the Cabinet overall is filled with "good, solid conservative people that will get the job done.''

McDonnell has won praise for his choices, even from General Assembly Democrats who consider the secretaries qualified and mostly noncontroversial.

"He's a social conservative, and I don't think he's changed his stripes just because he's on this side of Election Day,'' said House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry). But "he has to do the bidding of moderates and centrists in this state, and that's what he's trying to do. I can't fault his strategy."

Indeed, some conservative activists who had been lobbying McDonnell to pick one of their own complain that the Cabinet does not reflect their views on social and other issues. They are already questioning what it will mean for the way McDonnell governs.

The Cabinet secretaries have been sworn in, but legislators' confirmation still awaits, which might happen as soon as this week. The exception to the general consensus was businessman Robert Sledd, McDonnell's nominee for commerce and trade secretary, who refused to step down from the boards of three global companies, which Democrats considered a conflict of interest. McDonnell replaced him with Northern Virginia entrepreneur James Cheng.

Half of the Cabinet has worked in government before -- five in the attorney general's office with McDonnell and two for former governor Timothy M. Kaine (D).

Many of the others -- including the secretaries of commerce, technology and health -- have a background in business. McDonnell also expanded the Cabinet to include Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, whom he named chief jobs creation officer, and asked Sledd to attend meetings as a senior economic adviser.

The group includes four women, two African Americans, one Hispanic and one of the first Asian Americans on a Virginia Cabinet.

Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas) said the governor filled the Cabinet with "good, strong business minds" after months of talking about creating jobs and spurring the economy. "This hits on all the main themes of his campaign,'' Miller said.

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