11:32am

Wed July 10, 2013
It's All Politics

Once A Rising GOP Star, Virginia's Governor Hits The Skids

Originally published on Wed July 10, 2013 2:00 pm

Just last year, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell was a hot Republican prospect, ranked among the nation's most respected state leaders, and was touted as prime vice presidential material.

Those heady days are long gone.

After a seemingly endless series of reports about alleged ethical lapses by the buttoned-down, fiscally conservative governor, no one talks about his political promise anymore.

Instead, the rumor mill generates talk of his impending resignation, with the governor's spokesman denying via Twitter a weekend blog report that he would step down from office.

Over the past 48 hours, the drip, drip, drip of embarrassment and drama — which already included an alleged donor-paid designer gown for the first lady, a pricey Rolex watch for the governor and $15,000 in catering for his daughter's wedding — became a downpour.

-- The Washington Post reported late Tuesday that McDonnell and his sister allegedly received $70,000 from a big political donor, a gift that the governor failed to disclose. And that McDonnell's wife, Maureen, allegedly received a "previously unknown $50,000 check" from the same donor, dietary supplement maker Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

-- Just a day earlier, news outlets including the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the governor reimbursed the state nearly $2,400 for food and toiletries purchased with a state credit card to supplement back-to-college care packages for his children.

-- And, adding to the deluge, reports also surfaced Tuesday that McDonnell's 21-year-old son, Sean, had been arrested the previous weekend for public intoxication in Charlottesville, where he and his twin brother attend the University of Virginia.

What happened to the onetime rising star? Hubris? Entitlement? Virginia's lax gift laws?

"Probably a combination of all those," says Virginia politics guru Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Almost everyone who knows McDonnell is very surprised."

In an exclusive interview Tuesday with WTVR, the CBS affiliate in Richmond, the state capital, the embattled governor addressed the controversies that have engulfed him — from the small (purchasing items for his children) to the large (alleged gifts from donor Williams).

"I have been both disappointed, but, it's hurt me personally," McDonnell, 59, told CBS 6 anchor Lorenzo Hall. "Thirty-seven years and no one has raised questions about my integrity or my character."

He told Hall that Williams, and his company, Star Scientific, "has received no state benefits, no economic development grants, no targeted money out of the budget, no board appointments; they've really received nothing."

In the interview, McDonnell, whose $175,000 annual salary is tied for fifth highest among the nation's governors, also dismissed resignation rumors. Here's what he said:

"I don't know where these things are coming from. Some of the press accounts have been completely out of control, about rumors, about resignation and so forth. ... I am thoroughly enjoying and being incredibly productive I think, with my team, as governor of Virginia. We've got an awful lot of things we want to do. There have been a number of irresponsible rumors that have been put out."

That was before the latest Washington Post report of alleged additional unreported money gifts from Williams.

The McDonnell drama already featured his wife's hawking of a Star Scientific dietary supplement during a governor's mansion luncheon, a federal investigation into allegations that mansion chef Todd Schneider used food paid for by the state for his own catering business, and state inquiry into the governor's financial disclosures.

Virginia is the last state in the nation that limits its governors to a single term, so there's no re-election campaign to worry about.

As for McDonnell's once-promising future, Sabato, known for his "Crystal Ball" political predictions, had this to say: "McDonnell's political career is over. Guaranteed. As the Old English texts conclude, 'Greed is the root of all evil.' "

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