A governor to remember

Published 9:50 pm Friday, December 7, 2012

Virginia’s restriction against governors serving consecutive terms in office has always been a mystery to many within and outside of the commonwealth. The argument they make in opposition to the constraint is that four years is often not enough time to really get an agenda rolling. A popular governor, they say, barely has time enough to bump and rattle his way through the first General Assembly session after inauguration, it seems, before he’s a lame duck whose policy proposals are merely weak suggestions to a legislature that will outlast him and move on to the next occupant of the executive office.

It’s safe to guess that most Virginia governors probably reach the waning months of their third and fourth years in office wondering how they can possibly leave an impression in the desk chair, much less how they can leave their mark in history.

Gov. Bob McDonnell should have no such qualms as he prepares for his last year in office. He has been generally well liked on both sides of the commonwealth’s political divide, and he has helped steer Virginia relatively unscathed through some seriously troubled waters during the Great Recession. But the governor will have left his greatest mark through his administration’s application of the Public Private Transportation Act to solve real and perceived problems in Transportation.

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Especially in Hampton Roads, though, the legacy he leaves in regards to the PPTA is not likely to be a happy one. Generations of area residents who will be forced to pay a private enterprise ever-increasing tolls to cross the Elizabeth River or to travel from Suffolk to Richmond along the road he forced on them will have many opportunities to remember what McDonnell’s term as governor cost the people of Hampton Roads.

And if the governor has his way, they’ll be reminded of the same thing each time they see container ships cruising into ports that are operated for the next 48 years by another private consortium, which would collect the fees for loading and unloading of cargo in those facilities.

It’s a bit of a mystery to even the keenest political observers why the governor has been so fixated on the Route 460 project, why he allowed the level of secrecy that laid the groundwork for the Midtown Tunnel project to become a fait accompli, and why his administration was for so long so intent on rushing through a deal to privatize the ports.

But, having been burned twice by the PPTA, the mechanism through which the first two projects have been forced on an unwilling community, legislators are hoping to throw a bit of cold water onto the fire in the coming session. Delegate S. Chris Jones (R-76th) is among those who have said they will seek a way to stop the ports deal legislatively, and he described on Thursday the bills he has introduced to do so.

It remains to be seen whether state legislators will be able to unite behind the measures, and their success or failure will say much about how well McDonnell has been able to consolidate his power during the past three years. Whether they succeed or fail, though, the governor can be sure of one thing: Folks in Hampton Roads will not soon forget him.