RICHMOND (WRIC)—At the end of his term as governor, 22 years after being elected a state delegate, Bob McDonnell is leaving Virginia politics proud.
"I've worked tirelessly," McDonnell said. "I've put my heart and soul into the job."
He points to more than a dozen accomplishments as proof.
"Unemployment rate's the lowest in the southeast, we're the most business-friendly state in America according to Forbes, we've had four budget surpluses in a row totaling $2 billion—the highest total ever. We've more than tripled the rainy-day fund," McDonnell said. "We're in pretty good financial shape compared to most states … dramatic reforms in K-12 STEM, third grade reading, merit pay for teachers …"
He's also proud of his funding for higher education, a mega transportation deal that charts improvements for years to come and restructuring the state retirement system.
Critics argue McDonnell and a Republican-controlled General Assembly did all of that by shifting the bills—especially for retirement system reform—to local governments at the expense of the state's neediest citizens, which he denies.
"We tried to take care of people at the margin too … major reforms in our prisoner re-entry system, restoration of rights; I've restored more rights than any governor in history," he said. "And I feel good about the work the team's done."
McDonnell's final responsibilities include making way for Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, and giving the Democrat the benefit of his experience.
"I'm committed to making this a first-class transition," McDonnell said. "That he gets to walk around and get to know the agency heads, the people who are really gonna run this state and that state employees know he cares about them. Spend a lot of time talking to people individually."
McDonnell added, "Unlike me, I had 18 years in state government before becoming governor; he's had zero. So, you know, learning who the people are, learning the budget, learning how the institution works."
McDonnell also has an image to repair. Revelations that he and his family received thousands of dollars' worth of gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams tarnished the former army colonel's sterling reputation. He admits only to bad judgment.
"There are different interpretations of the law," he said. "I think I've fully complied with the law."
As a federal inquiry into "GiftGate" continues, McDonnell promises to strengthen Virginia's notoriously lax restrictions on gift giving, which may help salvage his political aspirations in the future.
For now, aside from wishing Virginia allowed a governor to run for re-election, McDonnell will leave the Governor's Mansion honored to have served in the office held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
"I'd love to do some more things," McDonnell said. "I have enjoyed it immensely and would not trade a minute of the experiences I've had."
Governor McDonnell says he'll return to the Henrico home he bought while serving as attorney general and explore his professional opportunities. There are rumors he's been approached to lead Regent University, his alma mater.
Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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