As if appointing Fred Malek, Nixon enforcer of anti-Semitism and SEC fine payer for questionable work his firm did for the Connecticut pension fund, to a government “reform commission” wasn’t bad enough, other recent appointments made by Bob McDonnell just keep raising questions about what kind of government he is running.
Lest you think that Republicans learned something about how bad governance can get when people with conflicts of interest are put in charge of government agencies, forget that idea. After five months McDonnell continues to show that he didn’t learn a thing from the egregious messes created by the Bush administration that were left for President Obama to clean up.
The latest lousy appointments include Diana Cantor, a former Goldman Sachs vice president to chair the board of trustees of the Virginia Retirement System, just a few months after McDonnell and the General Assembly took more than $620 million in VRS funds and used that to balance the budget.
Then, there’s McDonnell’s appointment of John Rocovich, a very controversial former rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors to the commission that recommends appointees for the governing boards of all the state’s colleges and universities.
These two appointments almost reach the level of stench that Malek’s did.
Diana Cantor, the former head of the state’s college savings plan and wife of none other than Eric Cantor (R-7th), has been named by McDonnell to be chair of the board of trustees of the VRS. What might be wrong with that? Well, I’m not the only person questioning the ability of a past Goldman executive and a lawyer-investment advisor to make decisions for the VRS, a pension fund that has been known before now as being above politics.
Republican Edwin T. Burton III, a UVa economics professor and a VRS trustee since 1994, called Cantor’s appointment a “substantive mistake” by McDonnell, according to the Washington Post. Burton said that Cantor doesn’t have the credentials for overseeing a retirement fund the size and complexity of the VRS.
Cantor’s background is as a partner in an investment firm operated for two wealthy families and serving as an economic adviser to McDonnell during the gubernatorial transition. That’s about it. Well, there is her position with Goldman when it was a private firm.
Now, let’s move on to John Rocovich’s appointment to the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments. Rocovich will have a say in more than 70 recommendations to the governor of persons to serve on state college and university boards of visitors. The commission was set up during the administration of former Gov. Mark Warner as an attempt to eliminate political partisanship from those board appointments. McDonnell has made sure he named four loyal Republicans to the commission. So much for objectivity.
Rocovich has a controversial past. He stirred up all manner of problems when he served as rector of the Virginia Tech board of visitors from 2002-2004.
Problems began when the board denied the spousal hiring of award-winning English professor Shelli Fowler as part of a recruitment package offered to her partner Karen DePauw, Tech’s vice president and dean for graduate education. Rocovich said that the reason for the denial was that he disapproved of all spousal hires. However, Tech approved spousal hires both before and after the denial of Fowler’s appointment. (Fowler was eventually given a tenured position.)
Also during Rocovich’s tenure as rector, the board dismantled affirmative action at Tech and stripped protections for gays and lesbians from the university’s nondiscrimination policy. Protests against the actions were so strong that the board reversed itself a month or two later.
As if resurrecting Rocovich wasn’t bad enough, former attorney general Jerry Kilgore has also been appointed to the Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments. It was during his term as Republican AG that Tech was told that it was violating federal law with its affirmative action policies.
What might another reason for the Rocovich appointment? Well, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, Rocovich gave $47,000 to McDonnell’s gubernatorial campaign, part of the $263,364 he has given in recent years to Republican candidates.
No wonder we have so many problems in American government at every level. As long as money is the grease that allows people to slide into positions of influence, regardless of the conflicts of interest they carry with them, we the people will never be represented in this “representative democracy.” Instead, we have a government that represents the plutocracy.