- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2009

The performance of General Assembly Republicans at the just-concluded session of the Virginia General Assembly was generally very poor, as the overall results reflect, creating a huge political problem for former Atty. Gen. Robert McDonnell, the Republican nominee for governor.

Each statewide election in the commonwealth since 2005 has ended badly for Republicans, and some Republican members of the General Assembly have become timid about standing up for conservative principles. Their actions during the most recent session put McDonnell in a difficult position -forcing him to choose between alienating conservative and libertarian voters who want to limit the growth of government and repudiating the terrible legislative handiwork of both Democratic and Republican members of the legislature, particularly Republicans in the House of Delegates.

This is particularly true regarding the worst piece of bipartisan legislation passed by the General Assembly during its most recent session: the retreat on welfare reform. The one bit of good news is that McDonnell gives every indication that he is willing to break with his fellow Republicans when they do the wrong thing.

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The most important story during this session of the legislature (and one that has gone largely unreported aside from this editorial page) is the General Assembly’s backsliding on welfare. Lawmakers passed legislation that would substantially expand welfare, effectively negating reforms instituted as a result of Gov. George Allen’s leadership during the 1990s. The bill, which transforms “diversionary” assistance from a temporary program into something resembling an entitlement, will soon be signed into law by outgoing Gov. (and Democratic National Committee Chairman) Tim Kaine.

It passed the Virginia House 96-0 largely because conservative Republicans, who should have known better, were bamboozled by a fiscal impact statement from the Kaine administration which made the specious argument that expanding diversionary assistance would actually save money. In sharp contrast to House Republicans, GOP senators were not asleep at the switch and tried to derail the legislation. But Republicans hold only 19 of the 40 seats in the Virginia Senate, which passed the welfare expansion measure 22-17 despite a heroic effort by Sen. Mark Obenshain to stop it.

The two-year, $77 billion budget approved by the legislature also failed to address the crushing transportation problems in Northern Virginia stemming from the current funding formula that is skewed in favor of rural areas with less pressing needs.

Looking at it perversely, things could have been much worse. Kaine failed in his efforts to “solve” the commonwealth’s transportation problems with tax increases. The faltering state economy derailed the governor’s efforts to provide universal taxpayer-funded kindergarten. Kaine’s push for early release from prison of “nonviolent” offenders - including career criminals who burn crosses, manufacture methamphetamine with children present, or commit or aid and abet acts of terrorism - was rebuffed.

Lawmakers also had the good judgment to kill some of the sillier nanny-state proposals put forward. These included requirements that employer-provided insurance policies cover autism and that stores be prohibited from using certain kinds of plastic bags (and that they be required to charge customers five cents for each one they use).

Asked Friday about the General Assembly’s actions on welfare and other issues, a spokesman for McDonnell told The Washington Times that the candidate disagrees with the welfare expansion measure passed by the General Assembly. As a member of the House of Delegates, McDonnell “was a strong supporter of Gov. Allen’s welfare reforms during the 1990s,” spokesman Tucker Martin said. “He would oppose any effort to expand welfare,” including the legislation passed by the legislature. Martin said McDonnell opposes a smoking ban that the General Assembly passed at bars and restaurants as a “violation of property rights.” Robert McDonnell clearly understands that if he is to be elected governor, he must side with conservative/libertarian voters and against Republicans who act like RINOs - Republicans in Name Only.

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