Home Virginia Politics On ABC privatization, GUV McDonnell faces his Creigh Deeds moment

On ABC privatization, GUV McDonnell faces his Creigh Deeds moment


(A problem may be how to find members for a “Blue Ribbon” Commission with the business and economic savvy and the integrity necessary to avoid the manipulation of the politically savvy. – promoted by Dan Sullivan)

On ABC privatization, GOP Governor McDonnell faces his Craig Deeds moment: can he turn lemons into lemonade, something the Democratic couldn’t do last year.

By Paul Goldman

Pondering his choices, Tom Hanks’ character in the movie “Castaway” stands at a four way intersection in rural America, thinking perhaps of the wisdom in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” [ copied in full below]. At last year’s key Fairfax Chamber debate, GOP candidate Bob McDonnell held up a blank piece of paper and said it represented the transportation plan of his Democratic opponent. It was an audacious ploy by McDonnell, in good measure because the Republican’s plan wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, as clear now as it should have been then.

In that regard, the centerpiece of that plan – ABC privatization – has now comeback to haunt Governor McDonnell. Or maybe not, the choice is his and there is increasing evidence he knows it. Gone is the bravado of the McDonnell Administration evinced for a year now, promising “at least” $500 million in new transportation funds and a revenue-neutral plan to get the state totally out of the hard liquor business. In it’s place, there is a growing recognition that when you are in a hole, it is best to stop digging.


What made candidate McDonnell’s political ploy so effective in 2009 – and why it threatens to boomerang in 2010, is the most basic rule of politics: you can’t disprove a negative once it takes hold in the public’s mind. Creigh Deeds instinctively realized his problem. But his campaign panicked, and made a fateful mistake. They say he lost because he had the courage to say this: “Let me be clear regarding taxes: I will sign …a bipartisan bill with a dedicated funding mechanism for transportation — even if it includes new taxes” wrote the candidate in a now famous OPED for the Washington Post.

But this ignores the biggest problem with the Deeds position, which he spelled out this way in the same OPED column: “We all largely agree about what’s needed to fix our infrastructure. Where my opponent and I disagree is how to accomplish those improvements.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t true, as Mr. Deeds’ OPED piece proves. He can point to no document produced by what historically is known as a “Blue Ribbon” gubernatorial commission, especially one created by a Republican Governor, that has the kind of stature and credibility responsible for producing a Transportation 2050 Initiative. Yes, Mr .Deeds article contains the usual generic list of political correct buzz words on various generalized projects, and double yes, the state does have an arm of the Transportation Department which is constantly turning out studies on the subject, as have various other legislative and other groups.

But the “Vision” statement Mr. Deeds’ says is there – which he concedes is the necessary pre-requisite to any responsible discussion of the next step – doesn’t exist in the “Blue Ribbon” form. Ironically, his OPED acknowledges the need for such a group, but he puts the political cart before the gubernatorial horse by talking new taxes instead of a new vision.

Bottom line: We don’t need a “Blue Ribbon” commission to tell us how to raise taxes, our politicians have proven quite capable in this regard. But what we do need is what politicians and their minions can’t provide: the respected transportation, economic and quality of life expertise to lay out the transportation grid we must have in 2050 to make Virginia all it must be. It maybe more extensive and more costly than I might think: or less so, why let the 24/7 Internet commentariat decide both what should think, and the factual basis for that thinking, for us.

Previous generations of Virginians were able to come to a consensus on transportation, producing what was considered among the best state systems in the whole country even though it is one of the largest. I have full confidence this generation can do the same once we can develop the “Vision.” For example, with the advent of electric cars, high MPG rated vehicles,  and the growing ability of individuals to work from home, it is very possible that in terms of the automobile, our policy assumptions are no longer valid going forward.  

Enter then, Governor McDonnell, who can expect to see Democratic State Senator Creigh Deeds stand on the floor of the body next January, holding up an empty sheet of paper entitled “McDonnell’s Transportation Plan”, as the major toll revenues, the offshore oil royalties and the $500 or more ABC privatization on “windfall” promised last year by Mr. McDonnell as more billions for a transportation funding “fix” has been exposed as empty rhetoric.

But at the same time, this need to reboot on transportation gives Governor McDonnell a unique chance to turn lemons into lemonade. In my view he can, but he needs to show his inner Ronald Reagan, who knew when the script needed a rewrite. Indeed, more than perhaps any modern President, Reagan reached across the aisle on key domestic issues without ever being accused of violating any of his principles. It was quite a feat.

Yet McDonnell can do it on transportation, which he now concedes is the major reason for his ABC focus. All he needs to do is this:

1. Concede that there is no way ABC privatization can raise the kind of money he once thought possible for transportation. Therefore, he needs to go to a retail-only ABC privatization approach that is revenue-neutral, indeed can be revenue-accretive as I have shown.

2. In return for Democratic support for this new ABC plan, the Governor, in consultation with Democratic Senator Majority Leader Dick Saslaw and House Speaker Bill Howell, both pledging to seek the views of the minority party in their respective chambers, will create a “Blue Ribbon” Commission on such integrity and ability on the transportation issue that even those who will disagree with their findings will not credibly be able to refute the bipartisan, pro-Virginia credentials of the members. This Commission will be tasked to come up with the “2050 Vision” and it’s projected capital requirements along with operational maintenance.

3. Once the “Blue Ribbon” Commission provides it’s report by January, 2012, the Governor will present the findings to the General Assembly, and ask both chambers whether they agree or disagree with the “Vision.” If the “Vision” is adopted, then the Governor, conjunction with the House Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader, will create a new “Blue Ribbon” Commission to develop financing options should it be determined that revenue growth alone can not provide the funding. Their report will be due on January 2013.

At which point, those who want to be the next Governor of Virginia will have their campaigns to decide how to engage the people of the state in the conversation.

Or: Governor McDonnell can think small, focus only on his shrunken ABC plans, which ironically will only highlight his failure to deliver on a transportation plan. Moreover, given the fact the people of Virginia have little interest in changing the ABC system, his continued efforts will seem to be focusing on a non-existent problem when real ones are put on the back burner.

In effect, he will give Mr. Deeds a chance, should he want to do it, to hold up that blank piece of paper for the next 3 years, day after day, although the image will not take so long to sink into the public mind set.

So Mr. McDonnell can continue to produce lemons, or he can turn them into lemonade. His choice.                        

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference[1]

  • blue bronc

    I have yet to understand what Bob “Killer of Women” McDonnell hopes to gain by continuing to pull a dead horse.  The Republican goal of eliminating government through privatizing everything maybe their dream. Yet it is not a dream of most people. Americans, even teabaggers, know there are functions that only a government entity can do.

    He shot his wad on the first round of privatizing VABC. He lost, with a lot of “DUMB” stamps on his forehead.  The numbers will not work. As long as he proposes the selling of the booze unit to private control, it is a money loser as seen from all other states that have shed their liquor industry.

    However, if he advances the concept that selling the booze unit is to get Virginia out of the booze industry, money be damned, he might win it.  Convince the voters that Virginia does not need the income from selling the stuff and he can get it done.

    But, he best be very careful; because if every time he tries to give the booze industry away it looks like it is to his political buddies he should drop the whole idea. If his entire motive is to pay back for politics, he should drop the thing too.

    But, to return to a dead horse and try to revive it after it was thoroughly examined and declared deceased by friend and foe seems very politically blind or tone-deaf.  Unless he has to for some reason.  

  • martinlomasney

    Don’t even try to sell that hocum to folks in NoVa or Norfolk.

    Please cite us the source for that nonsense.

    The continued hubris of Virginians who claim to have the best this or the most outstanding that is nausea inducing.

    For its entire history, Va. has neglected its transportation infrastructure.  Please read Dominion of Memory by Susan Dunn.  That tradition of substandard roads, canals and railroads has never been corrected.

    To know where we are going we have to know where we’ve been.

    Next you’ll be telling us what a great public university system Va has. Emphasis on system.

    Va has had the 46th tax burden in the country for decades.  While the rich folks and businesses love it, that tax level puts us in league with Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas for resources available to devote to education and transportation.  

    You get what you pay for. As Dick Saslaw frequently says, we can have the K-12 of Alabama, the roads of Arkansas and the public college system of Mississippi with that money but we can’t compete with the states of the Northeast or North Carolina.

    Why do Va. Democrats expect to have decent roads, schools and public colleges when the Mars family pays the same income tax rate as the kid flipping burgers as McDonald’s.

    The congratulatory self delusion is nothing short of mind boggling and gets in the way of solving the problems facing our Commonwealth.  

  • martinlomasney

    and the growing ability of individuals to work from home, it is very possible that in terms of the automobile, our policy assumptions are no longer valid going forward.”

    Please elaborate on this thought because it’s not clear to me what you mean.

  • November 11, 2010

    Dear Governor McDonnell,

    I understand from an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch that you stated you hired The PFM Group, a private outside group, to study the ABC privatization issue to “make sure people are going to vote solely on policy” instead of “fighting about the numbers.”

    While I continue to have serious and real trepidations about the fiscal propriety of the proposed plan and whether there will be any significant revenue benefits for the Commonwealth, I would suggest to you, as I stated previously, that there remain other significant considerations that need to be addressed. Based on your statements in the newspaper, I do not believe PFM will be considering these concerns, but I still believe strongly that they are very important and must be resolved before we can and should move forward. I would ask you respectfully to please ensure that these issues are considered and addressed in your final proposal to the General Assembly:

    *The social and public safety impacts of significantly expanding the number of licensed liquor vendors in communities across the Commonwealth

    *The likelihood than many of these additional vendors will be located near schools and community centers, and in low-income communities

    *The increased opportunity for minors to purchase hard liquor from a larger number of vendors, and the additional regulation and enforcement that will be required in order to prevent that from happening

    *The impacts of allowing private vendors to promote the sale of hard liquor products in Virginia communities

    I was also dismayed that it appeared you doubted the motives of some of us who have questioned the privatization proposal by saying that Senate Democrats who harbor reservations are “flat partisans and a shrill and minority voice” who “just don’t want a Republican governor to succeed.” Let me assure you that my concerns are not related to partisanship or politics, but rather to a sincere and deep felt concern for my constituents and for all Virginia families. I would hope that, as we move forward, we can work together to find the best resolutions to ensure that we obtain the revenue we desperately need to address our transportation crisis in a way that protects and serves Virginians.

    I look forward to continuing to work with you and my  colleagues on both sides of the aisle to seek out new and innovative solutions that save resources and serve the


    Thank you for your service. I remain

    Sincerely yours,

  • hrprogressive

    When this goes belly up, hang it around Kookineli’s neck when he runs for Governor.

    Given the Kookster’s closeness to Taliban Bob, perhaps the utter laughable failure of Bob to get shit done will help drag down Kooky as well.

    I sure hope so, because a Kookinelli governorship scares the shit out of me.