WASHINGTON – Gov. Bob McDonnell used his final State of the Commonwealth address to tout his accomplishments during the past four years including a major transportation funding reform law and keeping a lid on spending.
But he also said that he hopes the gift and loan scandal that plagued his last year in office wouldn’t overshadow his legislative successes. Although he apologized for the pain he caused, the governor stood by his choices in his dealings with the former CEO of a Virginia dietary supplement maker, Jonnie Williams, whom he did not name.
“I’m not perfect. I’ve always worked tirelessly to do my very best for the people of Virginia. I’ve set exceptionally high standards for myself. But as a flawed human being, I’ve sometimes fallen short of my own expectations,” the governor said. “The choices I made have been legal, and as several reviews have shown, no person or company received any special benefits during our administration.”
Throughout his 50-minutes speech, McDonnell emphasized his successes were not his alone but joint accomplishments of his administration and of the General Assembly.
He said that in a rare show of bipartisanship, lawmakers on both sides of aisle banded together to push through an overhaul of the way transportation is funded in Virginia.
McDonnell said the result should sustain Virginia for generations. He said the state is already seeing results, with a record $2.5 billion in road construction projects advertised last year and more than $6 billion in new funding coming over the next six years.
McDonnell said all this was possible because lawmakers worked across regional as well as partisan lines.
McDonnell also noted that the number of state employees, outside of higher education, dropped and that general fund spending grew just 1.2 percent between 2007 and 2016.
He noted that the state’s savings account grew from $295 million to $1 billion during his term.
McDonnell also urged lawmakers to take action on his new proposed budget as well as to pass a constitutional amendment automatically restoring felons’ voting rights.
He made the same request last year and the proposal went nowhere. McDonnell had signed an executive order that automatically restored the civil rights for non- violent offenders.
But he said those rights shouldn’t be left to the arbitrary judgement of the governor and should be enshrined in the law.
“I am not perfect. But I have always worked tirelessly to do my very best for Virginia. I’ve set very high standards for myself. But, as a flawed human being, I’ve sometimes fallen short of my own expectations.”
— Gov. Bob McDonnell
The governor also touted his hotly debated public education reforms saying that he took a “tough love, zero tolerance” approach in creating a state board to take over chronically underperforming schools, which he said is the civil rights issue of our day.
McDonnell said the percentage of education money going into the classroom increased from 61 percent to 64 percent over his four years. He said graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down.
He opened his speech by going off script to welcome Sen. Creigh Deeds, his former opponent for governor and attorney general, back to the Capitol.
Deeds was attacked by his son Gus Deeds, who then shot and killed himself at the family’s Bath County home in November.
“Welcome back Creigh. We love you,” McDonnell said.
The governor has recommended an extra $38 million funding for mental health services and he has suggested changes that would improve crisis services.
The speech capped 22 years of public service in Richmond. McDonnell’s duties officially end once Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe is inaugurated Saturday.
And he took the opportunity to restate his political philosophy as a conservative who believes in limited, but responsive government, family, equal opportunities and the chance for redemption and second chances.
“Serving with you for the last four years has been the greatest professional opportunity of my nearly 60 years,” McDonnell said.
WTOP’s Amanda Iacone and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.