Below is the first part of a two part interview with nationally known political scientist Dr. Bob Holsworth, a regular commentator on Virginia and national politics. His articles and commentary can be read in publications and on the Internet, and heard on television and radio. He is a frequent speaker to numerous organizations, heads a consultancy, and is the editor of the widely read blog, Virginia Tomorrow. Today, we talk about the current session of the General Assembly and touch on national politics.
FamilyFoundationBlog.com: Dr. Holsworth, it's a great honor to have you answer some questions on our blog about the General Assembly and Virginia politics in general. So, thank you very much for participating in this interview. We greatly appreciate your valuable time and look forward to your insights and are big fans of your blog, Virginia Tomorrow. Are you ready for some questions?
Dr. Bob Holsworth: Thanks very much for the opportunity to be on your site.
FamilyFoundationBlog: Has anything surprised you about this session of the General Assembly? Has the Republican sweep and increased House of Delegates majority created a visible difference or is it too early to tell (i.e., waiting for the budget)?
Dr. Holsworth: Certainly, the Republican sweep in the House has made it even easier for the GOP to control the legislative outcomes in that chamber. But the Democratic control of the Senate can still pose substantial hurdles for the Governor and the House GOP. I was surprised that five Democrats in the Senate supported the Health Care Freedom legislation, symbolically repudiating former Governor Kaine and President Obama. All of these Democrats are in districts where the GOP could field competitive challengers and this tells you just how concerned Democrats have become about the impact of the national mood here in Virginia. At the same time, Senate Dems have summarily dismissed part of the McDonnell agenda such as dedicating royalties for off-shore drilling to transportation and changing the budget cycle. What will happen with the overall budget is still up in the air as Senate Dems actually disagree if they should present a budget that includes some of the tax increases in (former) Governor Kaine's recommended document or acknowledge the political reality that there will be no major tax increases and present a budget accordingly, even if it inconsistent with what they would really want to propose.
FamilyFoundationBlog: Governor Bob McDonnell ran on a jobs-creation platform and de-emphasized social issues. But social issues do play a role in the budget. Do you think he will go so far as to de-fund Planned Parenthood?
Dr. Holsworth: I think that you have phrased the question well. Some folks have said that McDonnell ran as a "moderate." My sense is that he ran as an economic conservative and gave less priority in the campaign to his social conservatism. I fully expect that McDonnell will sign almost all bills with a "social conservative" orientation that emerge from the legislative process. What's not entirely clear is how far his own proposals will move in this direction. He obviously made a symbolic change when he removed sexual orientation from the non-discrimination executive order with respect to state government workers. The question of whether he'll propose a budget amendment to de-fund panned parenthood will be seen by many of his supporters as a test of whether he will implement the values of social conservatism in the budget. If he does, there will be a substantial fight in the Senate and the media will surely portray it as a switch from the "moderation" of the campaign. If he doesn't, he'll disappoint a segment of his core supporters.
FamilyFoundationBlog: If Governor McDonnell proposes a host of "fees" instead of taxes to close the budget gap, how will that affect his support on the right? creation
Dr. Holsworth: If McDonnell is perceived as simply playing semantics with taxes, it will harm him not only with the right, but with many independents as well. He was very clear during the election about his belief that revenue increases should primarily come from economic growth and I would be very surprised if he has a post-election conversion to a different point of view, especially in this political environment.
FamilyFoundationBlog: Governor McDonnell is getting a lot of positive attention right now — giving the GOP response to the State of the Union, doing several national interviews, even one for Newt Gingrich's newsletter. Does he runs the risk of raising his own expectations?
Dr. Holsworth: I think of the smartest moves the new Governor made was to cancel his national interviews the day after his SOTU response. Virginians have made it clear that his first priority as Governor should be the Commonwealth and, in the long run, McDonnell's national stature will be most enhanced by having a strong approval rating in-state.
FamilyFoundationBlog: What chances do you give of real reforms this or next year in areas of budgeting and in recalculating SOQ spending?
Dr. Holsworth: The Senate has already rejected a key McDonnell proposal on changing the two year budget cycle. Recalculating SOQ spending has been an issue that many House Republicans have pointed to over the last few years as a reform necessary to rein in future budget increases. We've seen some willingness from both parties to look at items such as staffing ratios regarding non-instructional personnel. If there ever would be a time where the entire SOQ calculation would be readjusted, it would be in the kind of fiscal environment we have now. But polls show that schools remain extremely high on the public's priority list. In aggregate, school groups (teachers, superintendents, school boards, and principals) are extraordinarily well organized and very politically effective. Moreover, Virginia schools overall seem to perform extremely well — just this week, we ranked third in the nation in AP testing. I believe that the effort for major permanent structural changes in school funding will have substantial hurdles to overcome.
FamilyFoundationBlog: What are your thoughts on former Governor Doug Wilder calling for Tim Kaine's removal as Democrat National Committee chairman?
Dr. Holsworth: Former Governor Wilder noted that he had supported Tim Kaine for Vice-President, but did not feel that the DNC Chair was the best fit for his talents and skills. My guess is that there are a number of Democratic activists who are more comfortable with the sharp edges of a Howard Dean than the more cerebral approach to the position of Tim Kaine. The proof, of course, will be in the November pudding. Kaine will succeed if Democrats do far better than expected. But if November is a Democratic debacle, Kaine will be fingered for part of the blame.
Be sure to check back with us tomorrow afternoon for part two of our interview with Dr. Bob Holsworth as we look at next year's Congressional elections in Virginia, Senator Jim Webb's prospects in 2012, and the Tea Party movement.