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McDonnell calls for civility in Virginia General Assembly - and borrowing $2.9 billion

At the Virginia Capitol in Richmond, House of Delegates members applaud Del. Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford) on Wednesday, the first day of the new General Assembly session, for nearing 50 years of service.
At the Virginia Capitol in Richmond, House of Delegates members applaud Del. Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford) on Wednesday, the first day of the new General Assembly session, for nearing 50 years of service. (Steve Helber/associated Press)

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Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 12, 2011; 10:21 PM

RICHMOND - Speaking on the same night that President Obama eulogized victims of Saturday's shooting in Arizona, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell used his State of the Commonwealth Address on Wednesday to ask a divided legislature to put aside partisan rancor and act as statesmen during their new session.

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In his speech to a joint session of the General Assembly, the Republican governor urged lawmakers not to be bowed by the weekend shooting of a congresswoman and 19 others as they speak forcefully on issues of concern to them.

But he called for a legislature facing a crucial election in just a few months - in a nation at war and dealing with economic distress - to seek common ground with civility as they work to tackle the state's problems during the 46-day session.

"Let us fight for the principles in which we believe," he said, "but also embrace an atmosphere of civility and mutual respect as we strive to get things done and follow the golden rule."

His plea for solutions-oriented governing was not without self-interest: McDonnell is trying to lure skeptical Democrats to support key initiatives to borrow money to improve roads, revamp state employee pensions and sell state-owned liquor stores.

But he asked that legislators remember, even when they disagree, that they share a common legacy as Americans and as Virginians.

McDonnell's comments came on the opening day of the Virginia General Assembly, which was steeped in references to the weekend shooting in Tucson.

In the House, members adjourned in honor of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head, and in memory of the six people who died.

In the opening prayer, Drew R. Landry, senior pastor of Spotswood Baptist Church in Fredericksburg, asked members to pray for Giffords (D-Ariz.), her family, and the doctors and nurses treating her. "In the wake of a tragedy of this nature, give us a nation and the leaders of our nation the ability to respond and not react," he said.

In the Senate, the Rev. Charles Colgan, grandson of a longtime Prince William County senator of the same name, asked that God provide senators "a safe environment to do the work they are called to do."

Four new Republican legislators joined the General Assembly, including two who were sworn in Wednesday - Del. Greg Habeeb of Salem and Sen. Bill Stanley of Franklin - to replace new members of Congress.

Legislators will spend much of the session considering thousands of bills and amendments to the state's two-year, $78 billion budget. But on Wednesday, much of the first day was marked by an unusual amount of pomp and circumstance.


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