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Election Day 2009: The Choice on Tuesday

Campaign 2009 hasn’t been one of the highlights of Virginia political history. The rhetoric has been negative and there has been very little discussion of the issues or the real problems facing Virginia. It’s no wonder that many expect the turnout on Nov. 3 to be unusually low. However, there is still an important choice to be made. The candidates offer two distinctly different views of the future, and all the campaigning aside, that’s really what this election is about. Which one do you want?

Bob McDonnell is a likable, capable, and competent candidate. He has done a good job at packaging himself. To many he looks moderate and issue focused. However, when you dig a little deeper the substance behind his campaign appears to be lacking. He claims, for instance, that he wants to be a “jobs” governor. That’s encouraging. It’s also a good sound bite, but when you look at the record, it’s lacking. McDonnell doesn’t have any record in promoting job growth or economic development.
Then there is his transportation plan. It was introduced to the media with a lot of fanfare, but the fact of the matter is that there isn’t much to it. For example, two of his key proposals focus on selling off the state liquor store monopoly and extending use of private and public sector partnerships. These are all good ideas. But none of these ideas, even if they made it through the legislature, really deals with the problem. His proposals to float bonds are equally weak. What’s more, his record in the legislature was generally unsupportive of any kind of long term transportation financing plan.
Then there is the matter of his thesis. Frankly, in the business of politics, something this old, and written primarily, as many students have done before, to please his professors, has only limited bearing on his positions today. But that’s the problem. McDonnell’s positions on many social issues are still a little scary. He has supported legislation that limited equal pay for women, and in a rather mean spirited view, wants to deny gay people the normal civil rights protections that would prohibit discrimination against them in state employment.
Deeds, by contrast, offers a lot more substance. Mind you, you wouldn’t know it from the campaign he’s run, but when it comes to his record in the legislature he offers a lot more than most people might think. This is particularly true of transportation. For one thing he understands the need for longterm capital investment in roads in infrastructure. He knows we can’t just keep tapping the general fund. Roads need a stable source of revenue. The general fund, by its very nature, has all sorts of competing demands, including schools; and so, more often than not, road investments don’t make out so well.
Deeds is in favor of some kind of financing, perhaps a penny on the gallon gas tax, to provide the revenue stream to support long term road construction. However, and this is where he runs into trouble, he hasn’t been willing to say exactly what the answer will look like. And unfortunately that’s proven a problem for Deeds. However, in Deeds’ defense, he is a long time consensus builder. If he were elected he wants to work with the Republicans to come up with a joint program. In other words, he wants to craft a proposal that will get the support of both parties. Its sound thinking and good policy making, it might well get our roads fixed, but it doesn’t make for a good sound bite.
Deeds is from a rural district and understands the problems of rural unemployment and economic development issues. His region of the state has some of the Commonwealth’s highest unemployment. For almost two decades, coming up with ideas and initiatives to support job growth has been a key part of his legislative agenda. This background is going to come in handy if he finds his way to the governor’s mansion.
Unfortunately this campaign hasn’t been a good one. They’re usually fun, but not this one. Deeds, as much as he is my choice, didn’t start things off right. He went negative, and while it helped him coalesce some of the Democratic base it didn’t inspire people, didn’t promote any of that substance I’ve talked about and right now, he lags in the polls. However, before you pull the lever on Election Day, take a moment and look at the substance behind each candidate. You might find that Creigh Deeds has a lot more to offer than his GOP opponent. And right now, we can’t afford anything less.

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