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Full Interview with Governor-Elect Bob McDonnell

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Q. What will be your first two or three agenda items after you become governor next month?

A. Jobs, jobs, jobs. That's what I campaigned on; that's what I'm going to govern on. We've got tough economic times and economic development will dominate the first (General Assembly session) for me. I've got to find as many ways as possible to promote small businesses, keep our tax and regulatory climate good and strong, recruit business to Virginia and put other economic development and incentives in place so we can be the most competitive state in the country. MSNBC and Forbes have ranked us as the most business friendly state in America three years in a row. I want to make sure we keep it that way. We've got a 6.7 percent unemployment rate. That's below the national average but it's still the top issue I campaigned on and it's the top issue people are concerned about.

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Q. How do you plan to do this? The standard Republican approach has been to cut taxes and reduce spending. What kind of cooperation do you anticipate from the legislature?

A. I've met with the leaders of both parties in both houses. Everybody understands this fiscal plight we're in. We will have to grow our way out of it with good economic policies. I think we're going to get a lot of cooperation from both parties. What they've told me is that we have to increase tax revenues for economic development. There are some who want to raise taxes, but they know I'm not going to do that. I'm looking at restructuring parts of government, cutting spending and making our economic development apparatus work better. I've outlined several different tax credits; retooling the Governors Opportunity Fund, which gives the governor the ability to offer incentives to get businesses to come to Virginia. And I want to go to foreign countries to extend the economic machine. We have no offices in India, China and other places where there should be good opportunities to exploit Virginia's goods and services and I want to be present there.

Q. There's been a lot of commentary in the media about how you and Governor-elect Christie of New Jersey won. The line has been that you won because you emphasized bread-and-butter issues: taxes, roads, traffic -- and de-emphasized social issues. Will we see those priorities with you as governor and do you still care about the social issues? Are they still winning issues for Republicans and conservatives?

A. Absolutely! I am a social and economic conservative and have made no bones about it. I have an 18-year record as attorney general and as a legislator of not only supporting, but leading on a lot of those issues. So I am unequivocally pro-life, pro-property rights, pro-gun, but what I understood people were most concerned about and what I saw as the biggest challenges facing Virginia were quality of life and pocketbook issues: jobs, economic development, taxes and federal intrusion into the free enterprise system. So we decided about a year out this would be a campaign about jobs. My first bumper sticker said, "Bob's for Jobs." I figured if that were all people remembered come Nov. 3, I would win. Secondly, we ran a campaign that was uplifting and generally positive and focused on issues. People have so much bad news about the economy, the last thing they need is politicians butting heads and saying how bad the other guy is. ...

We understood early on that both the business community and independent voters were expressing concern about the federal intrusion into the freedom process and the advances in government that were being proposed: card check, cap and trade. Starting last February, I could see the business community, which had been going largely Democratic, recoiling. So I started taking strong opposition to card check, which undermines right-to-work laws, cap and trade, which would create a national energy tax.

In May, June and July, we saw that the tremendous deficit and focus on nationalized health care were the kinds of policies that affected everybody. The general public became engaged. I ran on Virginia issues but the federal government -- I don't care if they're Republican or Democrat -- if they trample on the Tenth Amendment, undermine the principles of federalism and do things that are bad for Virginia families, I'm going to stand against them. If they have good ideas, like I think (president) Obama does on charter schools and merit pay and the Race to the Top Program, I'll say I'm for them. But most of what Congress is doing is bad for Virginia. ...

I think the combination of focusing on pocketbook issues and creating significant separation from Congress on these intrusions into free enterprise and more big government created the model for me to win.

Q. A lot of your base -- the pro-life base -- has seen candidates they have voted for get into office and do little to reduce the number of abortions. Both Bill Clinton and President Obama have said they would like to reduce the number of abortions, but neither has or did. What would you do apart from any law that would allow you to reduce the number of abortions in Virginia and is that part of your agenda?

A. Absolutely. During my time in the General Assembly, I was a leader on pro-life issues, including parental consent, informed consent and bans on partial-birth abortion. People knew me and trusted me on those issues. I didn't have to spend a lot of time during the campaign to establish my credibility with the base. I don't think we ought to have state funding for abortion services, which means no funding for Planned Parenthood when it comes to those kinds of services. We need the state equivalent of the Hyde Amendment, which was bipartisan when it was enacted. I think we need a dramatic expansion of the Fatherhood Initiative. The president has had a couple of good ideas on that. I think we need to promote adoption much more strongly and make it a lot easier to adopt kids. I think we should better enforce informed consent laws. I got that bill passed in 2001, but it's (hardly) been enforced by eight years of Democratic administrations. This requires very detailed information about the child to be provided to everybody 72 hours in advance of getting an abortion, including alternatives such as crisis pregnancy centers.

Q. Sonograms, could you vote for that?

A. Yes. I've supported that bill in the past. My bill required a brochure that had illustrated pictures of the gestational development of the baby, so that takes it a long way. Ultrasounds certainly would be helpful. A lot of it is having the bully pulpit, talking about respect for human life, promoting crisis pregnancy centers that are doing some great work, so I look forward to being a pro-life governor. But I've always thought you can do as many things as you can with the law, but if you don't change the hearts and minds of the people things aren't going to change. Change in the culture generally precedes a change in the law.

I look forward to talking about protecting life and family and marriage as bedrock principles of society. I also want to be a pragmatic problem-solver. I think sometimes conservatives do a great job of outlining principles, but we've got to translate conservative principles into making government work better.

Q. How would you define a Republican in 2009?

A. I think it still goes back to the principles Abraham Lincoln helped establish in 1854: limited government, lower taxes. The Republican creed says it very well. It is the free enterprise system, not government that is the source of economic opportunity. We believe in a strong national defense. We believe faith in God is indispensible to the moral fiber of the people. I think those core principles in that creed are what I still believe in. It also means being fiscally conservative while embracing traditional values, but taking that philosophy and translating it into policies that make people's lives better. That's the approach I'm going to take as governor of Virginia. You can give the best speeches, but if you don't get stuff done. ... If Reagan had given all those great speeches but didn't accomplish anything, if the Berlin Wall hadn't fallen and he didn't cut taxes, I don't think he would have been looked upon as that great a president.

Q. Some conservatives in the party have come up with a 10-point "purity pledge," which they plan to present at the RNC gathering next month in Hawaii. The approach is the Reagan one, that if you're 80 percent with me, you're my friend. Is this useful to help the party define its image?

A. There are a core set of principles that can be embraced by all Republicans. I've just taken a cursory glance at that pledge and haven't really studied it. One of the reasons I was able to get 58.6 percent of the vote is that we tried to bring a lot of people into the party. We had a 2-1 advantage with independents and I try to do it by reaching out and embracing people, not having a covenant of limitations that excludes people. What I am concerned about are these acid tests where if you fail on one or two, somehow you are ostracized from the party. That leads to infighting, destruction and losses at the polls. For me, I stuck to my principles as a social and fiscal conservative, but focused almost entirely during the campaign on economic conservative issues. I didn't alienate my socially conservative friends, but I'm not sure written acid tests will be helpful in building the party.

I think the brand is damaged in two ways. One is because we have violated some of those basic tenets when it comes to things liken taxes and spending at the state and federal levels -- Congress, the president, some governors not sticking to fiscal conservatism. On the other side we've allowed ourselves to be defined by the left as the party of 'no.' Democrats were very successful during the Kane and Warner years portraying us as obstructionists; we didn't have positive ideas; we just wanted to get in the way of the progressives and progress. We've got to do a better job of putting forth positive ideas. As long as we're branded as a narrow party or the party of 'no," we're not going to win. I think we had some success in busting that here in Virginia.

Q. The Washington Post was relentless in attacking you in editorials and in front-page stories.

A. My friends. We had 44 articles, blogs, stories within one two-week period.

Q. Clearly they failed to defeat you. What does this say about the power of the big media to influence the outcome of an election?

A. It shows that Virginia is still a right-of-center state. Even in the Post's main market, I won in Loudon and Fairfax counties by a surprising margin. The people of Virginia know what they want. They want a limited, efficient government that protects their constitutional liberties, gives them great opportunities, provides a safety net and they want government to work effectively at the lowest cost. It didn't matter what the Post said about my views on life and marriage. People are about evenly split on that, but regardless of what their position is they could live with a guy who is 100 percent pro-life like me, if I was going to create jobs and grow the economy. The Post, along with my opponent, created such a misplaced focus on my position on social issues that they ceded the entire playing field to me on economic issues, which is what people were voting on. While they set out to hurt me, they ended up helping me by having my opponent focus on social issues that were less important this time around.

Q. I want to ask you the Katie Couric/Sarah Palin question with a twist. What do you read for information and inspiration?

A. Information. I read a series of daily news clips, the Richmond Times Dispatch, a lot of Internet searches. I look at the major papers of record: The Post, the Virginia Pilot and Roanoke Times, as well as a couple of conservative journalists. They give me a pretty good flavor of what 85 percent of the people in Virginia are reading. The Weekly Standard is one. Inspiration? I read the Bible and books like "The Greatest Generation" by Tom Brokaw and I'm starting on "The Shack."

In the last year I have read so much stuff dealing with policy and state government that there has been very little time for personal reading other than the books I mentioned. I read a lot about George Washington. I grew up in the shadow of Mt. Vernon. Washington is probably my most frequently quoted mentor. He understood liberty and freedom better than most. He was a general and a patriot and a guy who willingly walked away from power. Not many politicians can do that.

Q. The Archbishop of Rhode Island has asked that Congressman Patrick Kennedy not take communion because of his pro-choice position and the federal funding of it. This is an issue that comes up from time to time with Catholic politicians who are liberal. You're a Catholic. How do you see the proper relationship between your church and the state? Is there a conflict for you?

A. Everyone walks into public life with values defined by their faith, whatever their faith. Ninety-three percent of Americans say they believe in God and it's higher than that in the Virginia General Assembly. My job as governor is not to be theologian in chief. My job is to enforce the laws of Virginia and to positively affect public policy within the confines of the Virginia constitution. Where my faith helps me immensely is that there is a style of governing, which for me as a Christian means dialogue and civility and politeness and a spirit of cooperation and good will. I try and find ways to work together, while never capitulating on my principles. That style has served me amazingly well for 18 years. You never burn bridges. You reach out to people you disagree with. You always realize that you live to fight another day. My enemy today on an issue may be my best friend tomorrow.

Aside from style, the Scriptures teach you how to deal with people, which has been enormously helpful as a public official. My views on life were formed early while growing up in Fairfax County. On the issue of the death penalty, which I have always strongly supported, I am in conflict with the church. Apart from that, in my job as governor, I will swear an oath to uphold and defend the constitution of Virginia and I've got to defend those laws. I may lobby the General Assembly to change a number of those laws, but as long as they are on the books, I have a duty to enforce those laws.

Q. How much are you going to get for selling the liquor stores?

A. Gov. (Doug) Wilder did a study for Gov. (Mark) Warner back in 2002 and found that selling the liquor stores along with some other reforms could bring in $500 million. That's real money. Put that all into transportation. My goal is to maximize the upfront revenues to Virginia for the sale of the licenses to operate these stores, but then have a revenue stream so we don't lose money.

The liquor stores bring in about $105 million net to state government now. We don't want to lose that revenue so if we can do maximum licensing fees plus a return of the profits it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars. The concept of getting the government out of the booze business makes sense to me. The free enterprise system has worked well selling beer and wine for 50, 60 years after Prohibition. The only difference with this is the bottles look different and the proof is higher. Other than that it's the same product so it doesn't make sense to keep it in the government.

Q. As a resident of Northern Virginia, what ARE you going to do about the traffic?

A. I outlined 12 different funding mechanisms and a series of qualitative reforms. I'm going to audit VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) and find out why we have 8,000 (employees) and we're spending $3.9 billion per year and we're not getting enough roads built. Washington State did that. They did an audit of their transportation department and recommended $110 million in savings. It's a combination of bonds, general fund monies, privatizing ABC, drilling proceeds and tolls. Tolls are the ultimate user fee. I have recommended tolls be instituted starting with the border with North Carolina along I-95 and I-85.

What it will do is get people who drive that part of the Maine to Florida highway, who don't pay a dime in Virginia, to pay their fair share now. And more public/private partnerships. The combination of all that should bring in about $1 billion.

This administration (Kane) has delayed hot lanes. I want to get those back on track right away. You're getting those hot lanes built right now from Tyson's Corner to the Mixing Bowl and they just canceled the rest of the course and you get to I-95 and it's a mess. You've got to keep the hot lanes going from the 14th Street Bridge all the way down south or the system is not going to work and it's congestion pricing.

You pay as you go if you want to use the service and have less traffic. This is just one of an arsenal of ideas we can use. I talked with (Indiana governor) Mitch Daniels about his concession ideas, which he got a lot of flack on early, now they love him. Mayor Daley did it in Chicago and he's like Santa Claus. We're not going to raise taxes.

We just passed a $1.5 billion tax increase five years ago in Virginia and every time we have an economic downturn, if government asks for another couple of billion dollars out of the taxpayers, there is no incentive. It's the insatiable appetite of government that Reagan talked about. I told the legislators I'm going to be recommending to them a series of government reforms and restructuring to look at new ways to do things: innovation, consolidation, privatization, audits. ... I'm going to look at all these boards, commissions and agencies and find out if we need them all. We've probably got stuff that's been around 30, 40, 50 years and nobody has ever asked if it really makes sense. Especially in tough budget times, we have a sacred obligation to find ways to cut parts of the bureaucracy that don't work.

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