Home Virginia Politics Killing the Messenger: Who will dare give His Excellency the bad news?

Killing the Messenger: Who will dare give His Excellency the bad news?


(Excellent article by Paul Goldman. I vote for Joan of Arc to give T-Bob the bad news! 🙂 – promoted by lowkell)

by Paul Goldman

Unlike most states, Governor McDonnell is officially “His Excellency”, a hold-over from British rule. Which raises the question: given the McDonnell Administration’s fervent claim that we need to jettison our current ABC system because it is a hold over from Prohibition, would it not logically follow such a hold-over from hated English rule a 150 years before Prohibition should be on their “reform” agenda for elimination?

At least this is once change His Excellency, the Governor, might be able to get the General Assembly to pass: the McDonnell ABC privatization plan is DBA, Dead Before Arrival, it has no chance to pass the Special Session of the General Assembly the Governor has promised to call in November. As Lorrie Morgan sang, just what part of No doesn’t the Governor’s political advisors understand?

His Excellency says the public supports his plan, but he will not put it to a vote of the people. What does that tell GA members? The McDonnell team is telling GA members their polling shows strong support. General Assembly members increasingly don’t believe it.

In the movie “Gladiator”, the messenger sent by the Roman Army to the enemy returns on his horse, sans his head. But to be fair, the lack of a voice didn’t detract from the message now did it? Personally, cutting off the guy’s tongue would seem to have been enough, but I guess you had to be there. In that regard, I recall reading that certain Emperors of China always received good news, since any messenger delivering the contrary was turned into a eunich. This would certainly seem to qualify as an incentive to see the silver lining at all times. Perhaps it offers a better alternative for getting businesses to hire and banks to lend, then the government is currently considering.  

Back to the ABC’s of ABC: Who is going to tell His Excellency that his hopes of raising liquor prices 30%, blowing a new $20,000,000 hole in the budget and using government power to give special “good deals” as he put it to politically connected FOBs – Friends of Bob – is DBA?

On paper, grad student Bob McDonnell’s now famous thesis, discovered by the Washington Post, had much to say about liberalism, but didn’t propose any specific punishment to someone who dared tell a conservative that his liberal plan to liberalize whiskey sales in Virginia was well, way too liberal. Surely no whiskey for a month, no cigs or fatty burgers too, would seem sufficient punishment for such a messenger. “Gladiator” after all was just a movie, some old-fashioned “Just Say No” ala Nancy Reagan, updated of course, would likewise seem sufficient in today’s world.  

Why kill the messenger? That’s just a felony: spending the first year of your term pushing an ABC plan that is laughable is the real crime.

But this still leaves the bigger question: Who is going to dare be the messenger?


The top ten picks in no particular order:

1. Eric Finkbeinder, the Governor’s staff man who developed the ABC plan. He is the logical choice. But his credibility is now so shot, he is like George in the famous Seinfeld episode: Whatever Eric now says, the Governor understandably does the opposite.

2. Richard Cullen, super lawyer, head of McGuireWoods, closest to the Governor. A great guy, just back from handling Tiger Wood’s ex-wife divorce settlement. But that was easy compared to getting the Governor and his staff to realize its over. So Richard may have to call in…

3. Frank Atkinson, the smartest Republican intellectual in the state, wrote the book on the rise of the GOP, and a key player in the lobbying arm of the law firm. Frank is a mentor of Eric, and has been a behind the scenes player in the ABC story. He has the cred, but he can’t be the one who pulls the plug on Eric’s baby, Frank is too good a guy to do that to a friend.

4. House Speaker Bill Howell, a true gentleman, loyal supporter of His Excellency, the one doing most of the arm twisting right now to get GOP delegates to back the McDonnell ABC plan. But Mr. Speaker knows better than tell a Governor bad news. That’s why he is the Speaker.

5. Delegate Kirk Cox, major GOP House player, a very shrewd politician and nose-counter. He knows the McDonnell plan is DBA. He has tried to tell the Governor’s team that with his comments in the paper. Why should he go any further, he wants to be Speaker someday?

6. Delegate Morgan Griffith, another key GOP player, is running for Congress. The McDonnell plan is a nightmare for him out there in the rural 9th where it couldn’t get 30% of the vote. He has a great incentive to tell McDonnell the truth. But he needs His Excellency to help him raise money. So he will take the money and run…from the ABC plan.

7. The Richmond Times Dispatch Editorial page. While they have moved towards a libertarian bent in recent years, away from their Reagan conservatism, they still have not backed a Democrat for Governor since the Democratic Byrd Machine ran VA/ They are probably the biggest backers of privatizing the ABC system of any newspaper in the state. They want the ABC system dismantled at any cost, whether FOB’s gain, consumers pay 30% more, they want a totally free market system. So you would think they would be the first to tell McDonnell to abandon his plan since it isn’t a a free market approach? No way. If a DEM Governor had proposed, they would say so of course.

8.  Lt. Governor Bill Bolling surely knows, from his perch as presiding officer in the State Senate, that his body is dead set against the McDonnell plan on a bipartisan basis. But Bill can’t hope to be the next GOP nominee for the top spot without McDonnell’s all-out support. So he is the last guy who is going to volunteer to be the messenger. He is the foxhole to the end.

9.  Joan of Arc, surely one of the most fascinating figures in all of human history. Joannie baby would have no problems telling His Excellency what he could do with his ABC battle plan and that it was  dead. After all, she was known as the “messenger”, so she has real street cred with Bob McDonnell, a devout Catholic. One word from Saint Joan and His Excellency drops the ABC stuff and moves on, privatizing the State Lottery perhaps. But after being burned at the stake, Joan is out of politics.

10. Fred Malek, head of the Reform Commission formed by the Governor to make an recommendation on  such things as ABC privatization. Mr. Malek understands the liquor business and knows from first-hand experience the penalty one can pay for not realizing they were pursuing a fundamentally flawed policy in the name of change. McDonnell’s choice of Malek to head a Commission focusing on state government reforms was a big surprise given his having only had experience at the federal level. This would therefore be Malek’s chance to shine and save McDonnell from embarrassment.

Will Malek and his Commission do it? The odds say no.

I understand everyone’s reluctance, having had to be the messenger many times. But if you respect someone, you should not be afraid to tell them your honest opinion.

The McDonnell plan is dead as is anything close to it unless the Governor really believes the people will support him when the General Assembly will not. His Administration says they will.

But so far, he hasn’t dared the General Assembly to call his bluff by asking for a referendum.


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