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Bill Bolling Sends Virginia Democrats a Message on Ethics Reform; Will They Listen?

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by Paul Goldman

The 2013 GUV race just got weirder if that is possible. Let me ask you: Do you think it is  coincidental LG Bill Bolling just happened to issue his first-ever ethics reform proposal to reform things he never previously wanted to reform 24 hours after his GOP rival Ken Cuccinelli shocked the LG by calling for a Special Ethics Session of the General Assembly?

As philosopher Yogi “I tagged out Jackie” Berra said, some things are just too coincidental to be a coincidence. So why did Billy Boy Bolling call for “immediate action” to fix the McDonnell Mess, given that anyone who writes stuff understands the phrase was purposely chosen and as will be shown shortly, has only one logical political interpretation?

We all know Bill Bolling holds Ken Cuccinelli in maximum low regard. Republican Bolling has all but endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe. As the saying goes, when they are together, “get a room!” So why, then, did Bolling just give Cuccinelli a gift potentially worth far more than would be legal under the LG’s newly proposed Ethics Reforms?

The answer: Bolling has been sending signals to Democrats for months to hold a Special Ethics Session of the General Assembly. To be sure, he couldn’t say it directly without appearing to stomp on Governor McDonnell’s political grave. Bolling however saw the self-evident: with the Senate split between Republicans and Democrats, he could “pay back” the GOP establishment for deserting him in the GOP GUV nomination fight. He and the Democrats could craft the most kick-ass, bipartisan Ethics reform in the state’s history. Bolling knows Speaker Howell and his posse doesn’t want it.

Bolling never figured that Cuccinelli would grow a brain on Ethics Reform and flank the Democrats on the reform issue.  

Use you noodle: How does a kick-ass, pro-reform Ethics package coming out of the Senate with bipartisan support – Bolling is still a Republican for now – hurt Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates this November if Republicans kill it? Ahhhhh….now you get it. Bolling isn’t suddenly a big reformer. It isn’t the issue, but the politics for him.

Speaker Howell would be forced to pass at least kick-ass lite, the most forward looking reform ever in the state. McDonnell would have to sign whatever the GA would pass. Moreover, tucked in the Bolling package is a ban on legislators getting paid to represent clients before state agencies. Who do you think supported himself doing that as a legislator? Bob McDonnell whose abandonment of Bolling during the GOP GUV  nomination fight still makes Bolling furious, and remains the most underreported important story as to why Bolling really quit the race.

Bottom line: Bolling would be the hero of Ethics Reform. He would have, with his last votes as LG, paid back the GOP Establishment. Hello! Representing clients before state agencies is the way Delegate Bob McDonnell paid the bills, it was a big issue against him in when he ran for AG in 2005! Don’t think Bob For Jobs didn’t pick up on that!

BUT DEMOCRATS REFUSED TO TAKE BOLLING’S HINTS.

Instead of taking Bolling’s hints, the Democrats decided TO BASICALLY LET MCDONNELL AND THE GOP OFF THE HOOK. I think I know why and I think Bolling knows why and I think everyone in Virginia who thinks knows why. Democrats know McDonnell can’t stand Cuccinelli. They expected this to hurt Cuccinelli. They never figured Bobs for Jobs would morph into Jonnie Williams.

Now McDonnell is toxic to Dems; just read the polls, the Dem base wants McD gone. All McD has left is the Republicans. So if McDonnell is seen as hurting Cuccinelli, then he will lose any chance of staying in office if he happens to get indicted. McDonnell knows that. If his party sticks with him as having the benefit of the doubt (if indicted, McDonnell will naturally attack the DEM AG and DEM President), then McD can last until January if he wants should the worst happen.  

Let’s be clear: The current Dem strategy – against a Special Ethics Session – isn’t necessarily a bad political move. It is the conventional move. It has pluses. But as Bolling indicated yesterday – if you read between the lines – it has a huge downside. As in: The Democrats gave Cuccinelli a huge opening.

BOLLING TRIED TO CLOSE IT YESTERDAY.

As I said at the beginning: Do you really think it is just coincidence that Bolling released his reform package on issues he never before thought needed reform within the same basic news cycle as Cuccinelli’s call for a Special Session on Ethics?Ahhh, that’s right, it can’t be coincidence. Exactly: Bolling was trying to steal some of Cuccinelli’s thunder, one last gasp to try to get Democrats to see the better play.

Use your noodle: Bolling said cleaning up the McDonnell Mess required “immediate action.” This is August. There is less than a 50-50 chance that the General Assembly would do something small by the end of the next GA Session, 9 months away. If you put that down as “immediate” on your SAT test, do you think you would going to college anytime soon?  

“Immediate” means immediate. Bolling couldn’t endorse a Special Session, he isn’t going to give Cuccinelli that kind of help! Thus, Bolling’s PR person did the dodge and weave, a lot of yada, yada, yada, but it didn’t make any sense: Bolling will not be in office next year! So if he is serious about “immediate”, then why would he not want to be a player as opposed to a spectator?

Bolling has this fear: He fears the GUV race will turn into one about character as defined by the Johnnie Williams Mess. Democrats think this cooks Cuccinelli because he took gifts from Williams. But a Democratic prosecutor cleared Cuccinelli of anything wrong. Republicans thought Wilder would be sunk in 1985 and 1989 over similar types of charges. But once Wilder was cleared of any wrong doing (because there wasn’t any, they were all GOP trumped-up stuff), the voters didn’t care. As I have learned: The Williams thing is far more complicated than people yet think.

Currently, the campaign is being defined by Cuccinelli’s image on social issues. As I have written, if this defines the campaign, Cuccinelli is a sure loser. The GOP establishment types who urged Bolling to run for Governor do not support Cuccinelli on the social issues. The same for the basic Bolling type of Republican.

HOWEVER: The social issues don’t really rock their boat, they aren’t for instance into the “war against women” type of political message. This is why these folks are the most critical of the McDonnell Mess because for them, the image of that in the Governor’s Mansion is contrary to everything they believe about themselves and Virginia.

They aren’t worried about Cuccinelli taking Virginia back on social policy: that’s why they didn’t much care about Romney pandering to the social conservatives, or in George W. Bush’s social positions or even the GOP platform on social issues. This is why the backed Marshall Coleman over Doug Wilder.

What gets these folks going, in the worst way, is sleazy business guys like Jonnie Williams having access to the Governor, not the head of the Right-To-Life organization. They take the Governorship of Virginia personally on that level.

The Bolling constituency wants Ethics Reform NOT because they are liberal Dems, not because they really give a “rat’s ass” (to quote Brad Pitt) about whether legislators practice in front of state agencies, not because they care whether a legislator gets a free trip or Rolex, not because they are bothered by Cuccinelli taking the same kind of airplane rides and vacation stuff that Wilder and Warner and Kaine and everyone in the GA on the Dem side and GOP side take. In fact, these business types don’t believe that is corruption at all.

But Williams does symbolize what they don’t like. They have spent a lifetime telling their peers around the country in New Jersey and New York and Ohio and Illinois that guys like Williams don’t have any sway here! Not in Virginia. Naive? Yes. But that’s why they want to believe. I know a lot of these folks: It is difficult to underestimate how much they are appalled at the kind of sway Jonnie Williams seemed to have over their Governor. That’s the rub for them.

Bolling gets that. So he has been shocked Democrats didn’t do the self-evident. And on Monday, he couldn’t believe the grits and gravy of Cuccinelli daring to try and out reform Democrats on what Bolling thinks could be a key issue depending on things play out in the fall. Bolling can’t believe Cuccinelli can get away with it.

BOTTOM LINE:  Bolling felt he had no choice but to try to steal some of Cuccinelli’s thunder once it became clear Democrats and the GOP establishment were joining forces to oppose “immediate action.” Bolling therefore was actually trying to send Democrats a message yesterday.

It galls him to think that Cuccinelli can get a beachhead in the Ethics Debate from which a competent campaign organization could be like the boys at D-Day, able to maneuver once they get a secure foothold.

It is no secret that I agree with Bolling on the need for “immediate action.” And Bolling and I don’t need TJ to tell us what is self-evident: unless you do a Special Ethics Session, there is “immediate action” as defined.

But Bolling and I also know this: There is no reason to believe the Cuccinelli high command is any better than General Montgomery. He led the D-Day invasion in terms of the plan to get the boys on the beach. It was a bad plan, but Yankee guts and blood made it work.

Then, until D-Day +21, Montgomery got bogged down to the point Eisenhower wanted to fire him, would have fired him, but for the politics of the thing. Fortunately, Bradley and Patton figured out a way to get around not only Monty but the Germans.

Net, Net: Bolling is very afraid that Cuccinelli might be able to appeal to a decent chunk of those backing him by using the Ethics issue.

Is he right? I have no idea. It surely is counter-intuitive. But under the theory that Bolling should know his people better than any Democrat, his actions yesterday should have people thinking this morning.