It is hard to watch events and revelations unfold around the scandal-scarred career of disgraced former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell without feeling some sadness and regret over what happened to a once promising political figure in Virginia.
McDonnell enjoyed the fast-track in political life, going from Attorney General to Governor in a few short years. His election to the Old Dominion’s top spot in 2009 seemed just the latest step in a journey that would eventually carry he and his former professional football cheerleader wife to Washington as a Senator and talk about a run for the White House often included his name.
Now he spends most of his time with attorneys, fighting to stay out of prison on a multitude of federal charges surrounding he and his wife’s acceptance of money and gifts from a questionable Virginia businessman and repaying that largess with attempts to influence legislation and public support to help his questionable and struggling dietary-supplement company.
Over 43 pages, the 14-count indictment against McDonnell and his wife reveal a prominent political couple living beyond their means, putting the acquisition of designer gowns and Rolex watches over public service and not hesitating,even for a second, to use the power and prestige of the governor’s office to benefit their greed and personal lifestyles.
Their expensive legal team, running short of cash from a defense fund that struggles to raise funds, is spending most of its time running a massive public relations campaign in an attempt to discredit those prosecuting the former first couple, saying the charges come from a “seriously flawed understanding of federal law.”
The core of the defense appears to lie along claims that the McDonnells were not acting in any “official” capacity in their attempts to help former Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams and his company so they didn’t really break any laws that prohibit a governor and his wife from helping someone who helped them.
In a perverted way, the claims of the McDonnell lawyers are partly true. What Bob and Maureen McDonnell did were not official because their actions were not part of the legal, authorized actions of a Virginia governor.
But they used their positions to do it and that’s the point of breaking both the law and the trust of voters who helped put Bob McDonnell in the governor’s mansion.
The bottom line is that Virginia voters put a con man into power in Virginia. In many states, it’s not unusual to put a crook into office. It happens all the time in Illinois and other places.
But Virginians are not used to getting hoodwinked so blatantly and that is what bothers those who step away from the partisanship and take a hard look at the checkered personal lives of the former Virginia first couple.
The courts will ultimately decide if Bob and Maureen McDonnell broke the law. But guilty or not, their actions broke a bond of trust with Virginians and showcased how easily voters who trust their candidates can be fooled.
That’s a lesson we all must use to prevent another embarrassment to the Commonwealth of Virginia.