The Washington Post ran a recent Sunday edition story that suggested a chasm has developed between Governor Bob McDonnell and social conservatives. According to the article, some have become disheartened and feel the governor has let them down while others are more willing to be patient and give the governor time. So, what does The Family Foundation think of the governor's first 100 plus days? Understanding the context of events is always key to accurate analysis. So let’s remember that for the past eight years social conservatives in Virginia have been isolated from the governor's office. Both previous governors were at times openly hostile to traditional values issues. Governor Mark Warner gave $25,000 to the Commonwealth Coalition, the organization that opposed the Marriage Amendment, and regularly opposed our agenda (hear in his own words what he thinks of Christian conservatives). Governor Tim Kaine openly campaigned against the Marriage Amendment and also opposed much of our agenda (though he did work with us on several marriage initiatives). Add to that the fact that in November 2008 Virginians voted for Barack Obama for president, and political pundits (as usual) proclaimed social conservatism dead. Any candidate who wanted to win had to disavow caring about the unborn and marriage and stick to one thing and one thing only — money (well, the economy).
Enter Bob McDonnell. A long time friend of social conservatives and leader on many of our issues, values voters were energized by a candidate they could call "one of us." While campaigning, candidate McDonnell steered clear of social issues unless asked, focusing on exactly what the "experts" said he had to focus on — the economy. Some social conservatives expressed frustration that McDonnell wasn't more vocal on abortion and other social conservative causes, but many understood that the political climate was such that the majority of voters were most concerned about their personal well-being with an economy in recession and a federal government spending us into oblivion.
On Election Day, social conservatives voted for McDonnell in droves. Exit polling showed that nearly half of McDonnell's voters were self-identified evangelicals. Clearly, they believed that Bob McDonnell was going to be their guy in the Governor's Mansion. As with any constituency, those votes did not come without expectations, and they were high expectations at that.
Once sworn in, he went to work on his campaign promise to bring Virginians a balanced budget without higher taxes, and job development. Most agree that the governor has largely fulfilled those promises — though some are concerned with increased fees in the budget. During his administration's first General Assembly session the governor was relatively quiet on social issues, though his administration did vocally support abortion center safety legislation in the Senate Education and Health Committee. He also renewed an executive order concerning non-discrimination in state hiring practices, but did not include "sexual orientation" as had been done by the two previous governors (though Governor Warner did it in the last month of his administration).
Of course, things didn't go perfectly for the new administration. Social conservatives were particularly disappointed that he chose to issue an "executive directive" concerning hiring practices that included "sexual orientation," and we explained those concerns to him both publically and privately. He did, however, sign the Health Care Freedom Act, the first legislation of its kind in the nation that hopefully will protect Virginians from being forced by the federal government to purchase health insurance. He also protected Virginians from being forced to pay for low-income elective abortions (a major pro-life victory) and ensured that Planned Parenthood can't use the money they make off of their new license plate to perform abortions.
Now, we are just passed the first four months of his four-year term, and some conservatives are expressing disappointment, even outrage, with the governor's actions thus far. Interestingly, I was interviewed for the Post article long before its publication date, and at the time, we were encouraging the governor's office to take a more pro-active approach on social conservative issues. In particular, the discussion surrounded the pro-life budget amendments the governor chose not to introduce — defunding Planned Parenthood and failed embryonic stem cell research. On that issue I said to the Post:
We want him to do more, and we will continue to ask him.
I stand by those words. Once something is in the budget it is difficult to remove it. While we trust that Planned Parenthood will not receive any taxpayer money during this administration, we continue to believe that adding such language to the state budget will protect taxpayers in future years.
But remember the context of my Post interview:
In between my interview with the Post and the article's publication — several days — the governor fulfilled an extremely important campaign promise and reversed the Kaine administration's discriminatory prohibition on prayers offered by state police chaplains. In a press release I said we were "thrilled" with the governor's action, and we are. This was an important and courageous action and Virginians are better off for it. We also asked you to contact Governor McDonnell and thank him as well.
So, how is the governor doing? (Honestly, I think social conservatives need to take a deep breath, and remember that there are still three years and seven months left in this administration. We have to remember the victories he has delivered, while knowing that there is still a lot to be accomplished. But we are confident that the governor understands the concerns we have. There are pressing issues facing our commonwealth and the governor needs to address those issues. At the same time, the culture of Virginia must also be a priority for this administration. We will continue to encourage him to take the lead on family issues that are the foundation to the very economy he is trying to fix (see more of my comments in another article on this topic in the Richmond Times-Dispatch).
The Family Foundation is determined to be strategic in our efforts. We understand the political climate is hostile and we have to accept that incremental victories are victories nonetheless. Those who demand "all or nothing" tend to receive nothing. We are encouraged by the recent actions of Governor McDonnell and continue to believe he will fulfill his campaign promises.