I had no idea what to expect when the jury announced it had reached its verdicts on the charges against former Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen, but when the verdicts were announced I was stunned. The jury of seven men and five women left no doubt in their findings: eleven counts of guilty for the former Governor and nine counts of guilty for his wife! All the efforts to explain away their behavior, redefine their relationship, and nuance words and actions were not successful. Virginia has now achieved the level of disdain we have held towards governors of other states in similar circumstances. We have a former governor found guilty of corruption in office. Somehow with Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson having occupied that seat, it was not supposed to happen in Virginia.
Bob McDonnell is the last person anyone would have thought would have brought this legacy to Virginia. He served his country in the military. He has three degrees from a Christian university. He married a professional cheerleader from a major league football team. The thesis for his masters’ degree spelled out an old-fashioned morality that he thought was essential for how people should behave. He was a prosecuting attorney finding others guilty of crimes in order to keep his community safe. He represented his community in the House of Delegates where he introduced bills that included one for a covenant marriage. His first statewide elective office was Attorney General responsible for seeing that Virginia’s laws were fairly interpreted. His win for Governor was by a wide margin. He appeared squeaky clean.
The jury heard in detail what happened during his term as governor and determined he was guilty of corruption. That is the way our system of justice works. Not only is his legacy tarnished so too is that of his wife and family. For the Governor and his family on a personal level, they have my thoughts and sincere prayers. There will be an appeal no doubt. Whatever the criminal justice system does with the case under appeal will not restore the man to the elevated position he had in the public’s mind when he became governor.
We need to turn our attention now to the legacy for Virginia. Maybe we Virginians had it coming for we had become somewhat pompous over our reputation for the clean government we thought we had. Despite some cynics’ views, virtually all elected officials and government employees are honest, hard-working people who want to do their best for the Commonwealth. For those who do not fit this category we need to participate in a whistle-blowing exercise that will expose any who are putting their selfish gain above the public good. And the legislature needs to do more work on its conflict of interest and ethics laws. Maybe those changes can become the legacy of Bob McDonnell.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.