McDonnell campaign stops in Suffolk

Published 10:01 pm Saturday, April 4, 2009

With a crowded Democratic field contending for the attention of voters in advance of the June primaries, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell completed a six-day campaign kickoff this week in which he sought to be heard over the buzz created by his potential opponents.

McDonnell, whose campaign materials tout the former state Attorney General as the “earliest confirmed Republican nominee for governor in Virginia history,” sought to distinguish himself from his Democratic counterparts during a visit to the Suffolk News-Herald on Thursday.

Sounding mainly traditionally conservative themes, he identified himself as a strongly pro-business candidate who would work to “keep taxes, regulation and litigation low,” while fighting to help Virginia maintain its status as a “right-to-work” state.

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His loyalty to that concept, he said, has led him to call on Virginia’s congressional delegation to oppose the so-called “Card Check” legislation that would give unions more organizing power.

“We can’t let big national unions turn Virginia into Southern Michigan,” he said in his campaign kickoff speech during a rally last Saturday in Northern Virginia.

McDonnell grew up in Fairfax County and served as a prosecutor in the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office before entering state politics in 1991. He resigned from his most recent elected post, that of Attorney General, to campaign for the job as governor.

With a master’s degree in business administration, another in public policy and a law degree, McDonnell has a broad educational background behind his run for the state’s top leadership position.

But with the economy the hot topic among voters, his focus so far has largely been on what he would do to spur jobs growth and corporate investment in Virginia.

“In tough economic times, I think you want a candidate with experience in business,” he said Thursday. “Virginia ought to be the best place in America for small businesses to start and grow.”

McDonnell said he would focus on improving the state’s attractiveness to the tourism and film industries, to retirees and veterans and to energy companies.

“We need to be the first (state) to drill” off the Atlantic coast, he said. “It’ll help us with national security and energy independence.”

Recognizing that many of the most promising economic prospects rely on advanced scientific knowledge, McDonnell said he would work to provide incentives to middle schools and high schools to improve their science curricula and to provide “more merit pay for teachers” so the commonwealth can retain and recruit the best people to educate the next generation.

He noted that improving discipline within schools would be an important part of the plan and pointed to his work as Attorney General to fight gangs as evidence of his commitment to that goal.

Following the introduction of a Gang Reduction and Intervention Program that he promoted in Richmond, he said, the city had gone from the fifth most violent city in the country to the 49th.

“I think we know what works,” he said. “It’s a combination of tough love, good community policing, good options for young people and neighborhood watches.”

Such partnerships between government and private citizens also would be a cornerstone of his transportation policy, he said, highlighting the proposed Route 460 reconstruction as an example and nudging state officials to get negotiations back on track to get that project started.

“Route 460 should happen,” he said. “It will open up tremendous opportunity in Suffolk and Isle of Wight.”

A similar public-private partnership put forward by CenterPoint Properties regarding operation of Virginia’s ports bears considering, McDonnell added.

“I think we need to be open to a good, thorough evaluation of it,” he said. “If it can be done better or more efficiently by the private sector … we ought to consider it.”