RICHMOND, Va. — Now on the glide path toward the end of his single four-year term, Gov. Bob McDonnell is pensive as he ponders what Citizen Bob McDonnell will do once his lease on the Executive Mansion expires in January. And the title of author sounds like something he’d like to add to his portfolio.
“I’d like to write some,” the Republican governor said toward the end of a conversation on Friday with The Associated Press.
For 22 years, Robert Francis McDonnell, who turns 59 in two weeks, has continuously held or sought elective office. On Jan. 8, he turns the shop over to either fellow Republican Ken Cuccinelli or Democrat Terry McAuliffe and takes up the alien lifestyle of a purely private citizen with no immediate plans to run again.
Resume his law career?
“I doubt it. The world of billable hours is not particularly appealing to me,” said McDonnell, who earned his law degree in 1989 from Regent University and worked as a prosecutor in Virginia Beach.
Another campaign? There is, after all, a Senate race next year when Democrat Mark R. Warner faces re-election.
“After literally 37 years — as an Army officer, as a prosecutor, a legislator, attorney general, as governor — I don’t know whether I would think about another office in the future anyway,” he said. “I have been looking at several options, whether it’s the private sector or doing some charitable work.”
“You know, I’m going to be 60 here in a year. It’s hard to say, but I’m kind of becoming one of the elder statesmen in the party,” he said.
Elder and unloved, at least among the tea party interests that now control the machinery of the state Republican organization. They have vilified him for proposing and ultimately passing reforms to Virginia’s failing transportation funding system that included several new taxes.
Four years ago, McDonnell had been a hero of the conservative movement, unifying his party behind him as no Republican in a decade had done. In the depths of the worst economic collapse since Herbert Hoover was president, he won roughly three out of every five votes cast in the 2009 gubernatorial election with a simple message: “Bob’s For Jobs.”
One year ago, he was a top proxy for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He was considered a prime prospect for Romney’s running mate and a cinch for a cabinet-level post in Washington if Romney won.
He wagered boldly in proposing a highway funding overhaul to finance the maintenance of Virginia’s deteriorating 58,000-mile web of roads and bridges and revive its moribund highway construction program. In February an unlikely bipartisan legislative coalition passed the package and the tax increases that go with it, giving McDonnell what he considers his definitive policy legacy, something that had eluded his two Democratic predecessors.
But he’s had little to smile about since.
Two state investigations are focusing on alleged improprieties in the Executive Mansion kitchen under McDonnell’s watch. The FBI is investigating ties between the governor’s family and a wealthy campaign donor who heads the nutritional supplement maker Star Scientific Inc. and has lavished the governor’s family with gifts.
Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams wrote a $15,000 check to one of McDonnell’s three daughters, Cailin, to cover catering expenses for her 2011 wedding reception at the mansion. McDonnell never reported the gift on his required annual statement of economic interests, accurately noting that state law doesn’t require him to disclose gifts to family members, only to himself.
But the gift provokes questions because the wedding caterer was also the mansion’s official state-paid chef until he was fired in 2012. The chef, Todd Schneider, was indicted in April on four felony counts of stealing state property, and in his defense contends he was instructed to take state-purchased food from the mansion as payment for his private catering services. He also alleges that members of the governor’s family took food and other supplies from the mansion for their own private use.
Neither the governor nor any member of his family is charged with wrongdoing. But the continuing investigation is taking its toll.
“We’ve gotten a lot done,” McDonnell said. “We’ve left the campground a lot better than we’ve found it. Virginia’s been run well.
“At the same time, people going after my family is very troublesome to me. I’ve been married 37 years and have five beautiful kids that are all adults, and some of the level of scrutiny is far different than has been applied to any governor in recent history,” he said.
“I’m not sure completely what’s driving that, but all I can do is what I can do, and what I can do is focus on the big things I want to accomplish for the last six months and then see what happens,” he said.
He said he and his administration’s communications director, J. Tucker Martin, have discussed writing about his experiences once he’s out of office. They’ve penned articles and op-ed pieces, “but they’re shorter and more shallow,” he said.
“I’d like to write longer pieces about government, the role of government, about the critical need for young people to be more involved about the parts of our democracy that are not working as well as our founders envisioned.”
McDonnell stretched out his legs onto a coffee table in his office and said that for 22 years he has thought about writing on themes ranging from “our great American republic” to the nation’s threatened ability to compete globally. Then he takes a cleansing breath and offers something even more telling.
“So, these are the kind of things I think about as I wind up my public service career,” he said.
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