Battle-scarred McDonnell at ‘pivot point’ of leadership
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell is looking to rebound from arguably his worst week since taking office after facing criticism on a wide range of issues both from outside and within his party.
The popular Republican governor, who emerged largely unscathed from a divisive General Assembly session dominated by social issues, was stung last week for his cautious response to the ongoing leadership crisis at the University of Virginia and for replacing a union-affiliated member of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board. The move has prompted legal action in state and federal courts.
Those events followed a string of setbacks in rapid succession in which the state Board of Health packed with McDonnell appointees effectively neutered restrictions that the governor championed on state abortion clinics, and Mr. McDonnell's party boldly defied his wishes by voting to hold a nominating convention instead of a primary for the 2013 statewide elections. The governor also drew fire from both Democratic and Republican legislators for his offer of grant incentives to keep the headquarters of the Washington Redskins in Northern Virginia.
Several of the developments, such as the UVa. situation, occurred independently of Mr. McDonnell, who was on a 10-day economic trade mission in Europe when the crisis unfolded in earnest. But analysts say the issues nevertheless threaten to reflect on his leadership.
“It’s a brutal situation for him. It’s brutal,” said Paul Goldman, who served as an adviser to Govs. L. Douglas Wilder and Mark R. Warner, both Democrats. “The governorship is a position of leadership. And when the governor doesn’t lead on issues … things are going to spin out of control. And the governor’s going to get blamed. It doesn’t matter whether he likes it or not.”
A chance for leadership
Teresa Sullivan announced her resignation on June 10, effective in August. Shortly afterward, reports emerged that the resignation had been forced by members of the prestigious school's governing board as the result of long-simmering disagreements over the university’s mission and direction.
“Politics is about luck as much as anything else,” said Quentin Kidd, director for the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University. “Things happen. The UVa. situation - out of his control.”
Mr. McDonnell responded to the crisis in a conference call from Sweden, saying the process should have been more transparent, but seemed largely to distance himself from the dispute. He said that beyond making appointments to the 16-member board of visitors, which is split evenly between his appointees and those chosen by his predecessor, Democrat Tim Kaine, that it was not the governor’s job to micromanage the board or the university.
But in a decisive statement late Friday, Mr. McDonnell issued an ultimatum that if the governing board did not resolve the situation at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, he would ask for the resignations of all the board’s members Wednesday.
Also within the governor’s control is whether to reappoint the head of the board of visitors, Rector Helen E. Dragas, who was said to be behind Ms. Sullivan’s departure. Ms. Dragas‘ term expires July 1.
“It’s like a pivot point, perhaps, for him,” Mr. Kidd said. “It would allow him to demonstrate some leadership in a way appropriate for the governor to demonstrate leadership.”
His own making?
Other recent conflicts have more direct connections to Mr. McDonnell.
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