RICHMOND, Va. — In his farewell address to the General Assembly, outgoing Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell apologized Wednesday for a gift scandal that diminished his political standing while trying to highlight what he called a strong record of achievement.
McDonnell asserted in his final State of the Commonwealth speech that he’d broken no laws, but conceded that his actions left an “adverse public impression,” according to his prepared comments.
The governor is currently under federal and state investigation for accepting thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from former CEO Jonnie Williams of Star Scientific Inc., a dietary supplement maker. McDonnell has not been charged with any crime.
With three days remaining until he leaves office, McDonnell’s annual address to lawmakers was one of his last chances to try to define his legacy. He focused much of his speech on Virginia’s economic gains made under his administration, which he said include a net addition of 177,000 new jobs during his tenure.
McDonnell also highlighted what he said was strong stewardship of the state’s economy, which McDonnell said grew its reserves from $295 million to more than $1 billion.
And the governor said the state spent a record $2.5 billion in road construction projects last year, with much of it aimed at reducing some of the state’s notoriously bad traffic.
He also lauded his much-debated public education reforms. According to the governor, his was a “tough love, zero tolerance” approach in creating a state board to take over chronically underperforming schools, what he called the civil rights issue of our day.
McDonnell also said the percentage of education money going into the classroom increased from 61 percent to 64 percent over his four years. He said graduation rates are up and dropout rates are down.
Also, McDonnell also called on lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment automatically restoring felons’ voting rights, saying the move was “an important step for justice.”
He said his streamlined process already in place for felons has resulted in more than 8,000 felons regaining their civil rights after serving their sentences. That’s nearly twice as many as any previous administration. However, he said restoration of rights should not be left to the arbitrary judgment but should be a permanent part of the law.
In last year’s State of the Commonwealth speech, the Republican surprised many lawmakers by asking them to support a felons’ rights constitutional amendment. The proposal went nowhere.
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