Would a Democrat-controlled Virginia legislature better suit Gov. Bob McDonnell’s ambitions for national office?
McDonnell has been a highly talked about vice-presidential possibility, putting the national spotlight on the state.
But, the Washington Examiner points out that during the last few months McDonnell has scrambled to distance himself from the social conservatives of the state GOP, who have forced him to deal with controversial issues like abortion and voter ID bills.
The latest rejection of an openly gay judicial nominee is just another example of conservatives putting the governor in a thorny situation.
This week, General Assembly Republicans defeated many of McDonnell's budget amendments and scolded him for meddling with a spending plan lawmakers had crafted. They then recaptured national attention by rejecting a gay judicial nomination, Tracy Thorne-Begland, forcing McDonnell to denounce it as "disappointing and unacceptable" without appearing to support gay rights.
Democrats were gleeful at McDonnell's discomfort.
"The diversion and fascination with offensive and divisive social issues were devastating to McDonnell's national ambitions, and they did not serve the best interest of Virginians," said state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran.
Like the ultrasound bill, the latest incident with the gay judge has generated national attention, including articles in The New York Times, Talking Points Memo, Slate and more. On Tuesday, Slate referred to the rejection of the judicial nomination as “another Virginia disgrace.”
"As was the case with the ultrasound bill, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell tried to tamp down the bigotry on display in the House by pointing out several hours before the vote that a judicial nominee’s sexual orientation should simply not be an issue in a state that claims not to discriminate. In a statement, his spokesman said, “The Governor believes candidates for judicial vacancies must be considered based solely on their merit, record, aptitude and skill. No other factors should ever be considered and the Governor has long made clear that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not acceptable in state government. ” It fell on deaf ears in a state that apparently believes sexual orientation is in fact the best reason to discriminate."
Speaking of national ambitions, some speculate that the recent income tax hike in Maryland could come back to haunt Gov. Martin O’Malley if he decides to run for national office.
The Baltimore Sun reports that the decisively blue state of Maryland has not punished O’Malley at the ballot for his tax raising ways, but the national electorate may not be so kind.
These questions over his political viability on the national stage continue to fuel the buzz that O’Malley could run for president in 2016.
"Already, some nationally prominent conservatives are using the session to take aim at O'Malley. They say his record on revenues cuts hard against anti-tax currents that have run strong in national politics since at least the 1980s.
But liberal opinion-makers, who would be key in a Democratic primary, are cheering. They believe the anti-tax wave is cresting, and national leaders will have to consider increasing revenues in order to balance budgets.
"This puts Maryland ahead of where most states are," O'Malley told reporters Wednesday after the House approved the tax package. "There are many states that are not able, politically, to apply a balanced approach."
"I don't look at it as a spectrum from right to left, I look at it as a direction forward or backward."
These latest tax hikes give Maryland’s top earners the seventh highest income tax rate in the country.
O’Malley’s income tax increase targets earners who make more than $100,000 and couples who earn more than $150,000—a much lower bar than the $250,000 minimum endorsed by President Obama and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to The Sun.
National anti-tax leader Grover Norquist called O'Malley "Obama 2.0," and said the governor was positioning himself "significantly" to the left of the president.
"He is running as your classic tax-and-spend guy," Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform, told The Baltimore Sun this week. "If he thinks the country wants that in four years it is a smart move."
* Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says the state received $115,000 from a multistate settlement with Sketchers that claimed the shoe company made unfounded claims in ads for its Shape-ups, Tone-Ups and Sketchers Resistance Runner athletic shoes.
Specifically, according to The AP, Cuccinelli said the ads claimed the shoes would help people lose weight and strengthen their muscles.
Although the company denied the allegations, it paid 44 states a total of $5 million.
* Virginia state revenue collections increased 10.6 percent in April over the same month in 2011 largely due to strong individual non-withholding receipts, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.
On a year-to-date basis, total revenue collections rose 5.9 percent through April, ahead of the annual forecast of 4.6 percent growth, according to Secretary of Finance Richard "Ric" Brown.
* The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) postponed a vote to remove a union-friendly incentive for contractors bidding to build the second phase of Metro’s Silver Line extension to Dulles International Airport, according to The Washington Post.
The board said it would call a special session by June 6 to rule on the 10 percent bonus it included in the project labor agreement for the construction of the rail.
Gov. McDonnell has said if the incentive remains, he will withhold the state’s contribution of $150 million to the project.
* The MWAA is now on the defense after a report from federal investigators found widespread ethics and contract oversight problems with the organization.
A day after federal investigators reported that the authority played fast and loose with already lax ethics standards -- racking up expenses like the $4,800 spent on three dinners in Hawaii -- MWAA officials insisted they were doing a good job overseeing the region's airports and building Metro's Silver Line.
"I take these issues very seriously," said authority Chairman Michael Curto, who was reprimanded, though not mentioned by name, by the federal investigators for recommending his wife's law firm for a no-bid contract worth $100,000. Curto denies he made the recommendation. "The [federal] report tell us we have more to do to get to the level we all want, and that's exactly how we're going to proceed. ... It is my hope and expectation that we'll be able to address most, if not all, of the issues by the time the final report is released later this summer."