by Paul Goldman
Governor McDonnell just took an unprecedented political meat axe to the board of the Virginia Port Authority, effectively firing 10 of the 11 members as if they were characters in one of Clint Eastwood’s famous Westerns (great gun fights, had to love them.) McDonnell replaced them with a whole bunch of folks, many who turn out to be major GOP campaign donors.
In one sense, this doesn’t surprise me. Years ago, I was the only member of the State Board of Higher Education to insist on equality for women in terms of applications to all state universities. Note: The VMI controversy forced me to go against Governor Wilder as a matter of conscience). Today, Governor McDonnell has a daughter who is serving, or at least she was serving during the election, in a forward combat area. But a generation ago, I was some kind of “radical” for thinking equality for woman was too much for Virginia.
Knowing politics, I wasn’t surprised when Republicans led the charge to throw me off the Board, especially since I had been Chairman of the Democratic Party. Moreover, I wasn’t surprised when the Democrats, who I had helped keep in the majority, went along since they too were trying to curry favor with those who had trouble with full equality for women.
Change is easy for you when others have the courage of their convictions, so you can sit back and wait to take credit. I refused to go along with treating women like second-class citizens.
A generation later, we have another amazingly partisan purge, except this time, the board members aren’t being fired because they took a principled stance the GOP didn’t like. Rather, it is because Governor McConnell wanted to reward his friends with an appointment.
Tucker Martin, a good guy and a friend of mine, says the fact that so many of these appointees happen to be major GOP campaign donors is a mere coincidence. Personally, I am in the Yogi Berra camp on such matters — the famed Yankee catcher having once opined that “some things are just too coincidental to be a coincidence.”
But that being said, it is clear the Governor had a right to make visitors to the next meeting of the VPA board think they had stumbled into a Republican fundraiser, given all the major GOP campaign donors in the room.
Moreover, the folks appointed, by and large, appear to bring some solid business expertise to the VPA, an agency which has suffered in recent years in part due to the world economic situation.
Did the agency need new blood? I knew several of the old board members, and they were intelligent, solid people. But I can understand the Governor wanting to shake up the agency.
However, what I can’t understand is this: Why make such an unprecedented partisan move as regards a purely business agency, one that is supposed to be as far removed from politics as possible?
If this agency dealt with regulatory or other matters involving policy issues dividing Democrats and Republicans, or liberals and conservatives, then I could understand the Governor wanting people to implement his political views.
But the VPA is all about business, not politics.
Were the old board members resisting the Governor in some way, thwarting his agenda? Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
Going so blatantly political with VPA strikes me as counter to the image the Governor has been trying to build. It raises this issue for me: Is it connected to the 2011 elections, with the Governor needing huge amounts of money to try and capture the State Senate for his personal political agenda?
My hunch: It does.
Such a blatant type of political move as regards the VPA is stunning in its partisan audacity. Given the potential ramifications, it is a stunning development.