71st Governor of Virginia
Robert F. McDonnell
Governor Bob McDonnell was one year old in 1955 when his father, USAF Lt. Colonel John McDonnell, moved the family to Fairfax County. Four years later, John was assigned to Germany, but the time away from Fairfax would be short. At age 8, McDonnell and his family were back in Fairfax, this time calling a house on Wagon Wheel Road in the Mount Vernon area home. They would remain there for McDonnell’s childhood. His dad retired from the Air Force in 1964 and went on to a second career with the Naval Investigative Service. He passed away in 2011.. McDonnell’s mom worked for a Democratic Congressman from Texas, Rep. Olin Teague, and later at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. She passed away in 1994.
Governor McDonnell went to St. Louis Catholic School for third through fifth grades, Woodley Hills Elementary School for 6th grade, and Walt Whitman Junior High School for grades 7 and 8. For high school McDonnell went to Bishop Ireton in Alexandria. It was while attending Bishop Ireton that he has his first, and only, brush with gridiron greatness, scoring a touchdown and a two-point conversion against the famed 1971 T.C. Williams Titans of “Remember the Titans” fame. You can read the Alexandria Gazette article about the game by clicking here.
After high school McDonnell was off to South Bend, Indiana to live his dream of attending the University of Notre Dame. He could only afford college through a full Army ROTC scholarship. For Governor McDonnell a higher education came with a commitment to serve his country. Like his father before him, McDonnell would wear the uniform as a military officer. McDonnell graduated in 1976 with a BBA degree in management.
McDonnell went on active duty in the U.S. Army in October 1976, heading to basic training in San Antonio, Texas and then being assigned to Grafenwohr, Germany. He didn’t go alone. Earlier that year Governor McDonnell married Maureen Gardner, of McLean, Virginia. The two have been married for 36 years and have five children.
In Germany, McDonnell was a platoon leader with the 2nd Armored Division, and also ran a medical clinic for the post. In December of 1979 he left Germany, heading to Fort Eustis in Newport News, Virginia. But he left Germany having gained a helpful tool for his future endeavors: a Masters of Science in Business Administration earned by taking night classes for three years from Boston University.
At Fort Eustis in Newport News McDonnell worked at McDonald Army Hospital as the Medical Supply Officer. And in April 1981 he left active duty. But he didn’t leave the service. All told Governor McDonnell would serve 21 years in the U.S. Army, both active duty and reserves, retiring as a Lt. Colonel in 1997.
Governor McDonnell took the family, including his oldest daughter Jeanine who had just been born, to Atlanta to put his business degrees and military experience to use with American Hospital Supply Corporation, a Fortune 500 company. It would begin a period of quick promotions and several moves. After a year McDonnell was promoted to the company’s headquarters in suburban Chicago. A year later the company placed McDonnell in charge of their multi-million dollar custom products regional division, managing the Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Kansas City offices. Based in Kansas City, McDonnell was moving rapidly up the corporate ladder. But something was missing.
Governor McDonnell was still eligible for the Vietnam-era GI Bill, but those benefits would disappear after 1989. McDonnell realized that he wasn’t finished with his education, so he used the GI Bill benefits to get back to Virginia and enrolled at Regent University in Virginia Beach to seek a master’s degree in public policy. A few months after enrolling in 1985, this young university announced the creation of a law school, and McDonnell applied for admittance. It began, as he calls it, “the years without sleep.”
McDonnell simultaneously attended law school, continued his work for a Master’s Degree in public policy, raised his young family, worked as a sales manager for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, and served in the active reserves of the Army with the 18th Field Hospital in Norfolk.
It was during those law school years that McDonnell did an internship on Capitol Hill with the House Republican Policy Committee. Serving the committee, spending some time with its Chair, Congressman Jerry Lewis of California, and others, McDonnell realized that he wanted to be more involved in public policy, and the way to do it was through elected office. He wouldn’t wait long to pursue that direction.
McDonnell graduated from Regent in 1989 and took a job as a prosecutor in the Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. Serving on the front lines of the criminal justice system he worked cases that brought home to him the need for greater victims’ rights and policies that put criminals behind bars longer, and kept citizens safer in their homes. He now sought a greater role in making Virginia a safer and stronger place.
McDonnell had plenty of experience with public service, as a soldier and a prosecutor. But running for public office is like nothing he had ever tried before. Deciding to run for the Virginia House of Delegates meant taking on an entrenched 20-year incumbent. McDonnell hit the streets and he talked to thousands of voters at their doors, ruining several pairs of shoes in the process, and when the votes were counted that November evening in 1991, McDonnell was elected by a six-point margin to the House of Delegates. He’s never lost an election since.
McDonnell went to Richmond to represent the 84th District in Virginia Beach. In the House of Delegates, he rose to the position of assistant majority leader and Chairman of the House Courts of Justice Committee. He was chief patron of numerous bills during his career, including Governor Allen’s Juvenile Justice Reform Initiative, Virginia’s historic welfare reform legislation, the reform of Virginia’s drunk driving laws and a crack down on sex predators and gangs, legislation to abolish the death tax, and legislation to rewrite and improve Virginia’s Public Private Partnership Transportation Act. He also authored legislation and secured funding for the creation of Virginia’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Program to guide the General Assembly in reappointing judges.
His performance stood out. He was named the Network of Victims of Crime Legislator of the Year in 1996, The National Child Support Enforcement Association National Legislator of the Year in 1998, The Family Foundation of Virginia’s Legislator of the Year in 1998 and 2001 and the Virginia Sheriff’s Association Legislator of the Year in 2005.
An article in The Virginian-Pilot noted, “His fingerprints are all over major pieces of legislation from welfare reform, to judicial performance evaluations, to juvenile justice and parole reform, to tort revisions. Few legislators can duplicate his track record of involvement and success.” (Virginian-Pilot article, “Beach delegate stakes claim to state’s No. 3 slot,” Warren Fiske, October 19, 2005)
As Attorney General, McDonnell focused on policies to keep Virginia safe, strong, and prosperous. He kept his promises from the campaign trail, and fulfilled all seven of his campaign pledges. He enacted a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for violent child sex predators, increased penalties for drug dealers, protected Virginians from terrorist threats, safeguarded private property rights, reduced frivolous lawsuits and made Virginia a national leader in combating internet crimes and identity theft.
During his three years in office, 92 of his 105 legislative proposals as Attorney General became law, most with overwhelming bipartisan support. He has been commended for his work as Attorney General to strengthen Virginia’s mental health laws, establish a “Senior Alert” to assist in locating missing seniors with mental deficiencies, create a state of the art Sex Offender Registry, and provide new tools for law enforcement involved in online investigations of identity theft, sexual predators, and other 21st Century criminals.
McDonnell created and led Virginia’s Youth Internet Safety Task Force, which received widespread attention for its significant recommendations to improve online safety, and established the ongoing Attorney General’s Task Force on Regulatory and Government Reform. The task force made over 300 recommendations to streamline Virginia’s Administrative Code, and reduce burdensome government regulation.
The Virginian-Pilot, the largest-circulation newspaper in the state of Virginia, remarked about McDonnell that his “conservative credentials paired with his streak of practicality have served him well over a long and productive public life.” (Virginian-Pilot editorial, March 26, 2008) As Attorney General, McDonnell partnered with organizations such as the Federation of Virginia Food Banks, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, The Healing Place and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America to help people in need. He has stood by his fervent belief that in America everyone deserves an opportunity to succeed.
Governor Bob McDonnell was sworn in as the 71st Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia in January 2010. He received nearly 59 percent of the vote, and the most votes of any candidate for Governor in Virginia history. As Virginia’s chief executive, Governor McDonnell inherited an unprecedented $6 billion in budget shortfalls. He defeated a proposed $2 billion increase in the state income tax, kept existing car tax relief in place and brought Democrats and Republicans together to close the shortfall without a single tax increase, producing a $400 million surplus in the first fiscal year of his administration. During that same time, 80 percent of McDonnell’s legislative proposals passed Virginia’s bi-partisan General Assembly.
As the Harrisonburg Daily News Record remarked on McDonnell’s first 100 days in office, “On those issues important to all Virginians â€“ taxation, jobs, schools â€“ the man did not disappoint. Priorities were set and addressed. Virginians, we hope, can anticipate more of the same in days to come.” (Daily News Record Editorial, May 1, 2010)
In 2011, McDonnell saw 92 percent of his legislative proposals pass the bi-partisan General Assembly, including his historic transportation package that put the most new funding into Virginia’s roads, bridges and rail since 1986. Over 900 transportation projects statewide were jumpstarted as a result of the legislation. McDonnell also announced a $311 million revenue surplus for the second consecutive fiscal year.
As noted on Fox News in January of 2011, “Chief among the governor’s priorities for Virginia has been job creation.” (Fox News, Jan. 22, 2011) The unemployment rate in Virginia has fallen from 7.2% when McDonnell took office to 5.2% today, which is the 3rd lowest rate east of the Mississippi. Virginia was named in 2011 by CNBC as “The Top State for Business” in the country, with the highest total score in the history of the survey. Since beginning of the administration, Virginia has added 111,900 net new jobs and the number of unemployed Virginians has decreased by 21% (-53,346) since the governor took office.
In 2012, 88% of Governor McDonnell’s legislative agenda was approved by the Virginia General Assembly. Building on his “Top Jobs” higher education reform act, Governor McDonnell continued to turn good ideas into good policy with $230 million in new funding for Virginia’s institutions of higher education, reversing a decade-long trend of disinvestment and driving down tuition for Virginia students. In fact, following passage of the Governor’s higher education package, Virginia’s colleges and universities announced their lowest average yearly tuition increase in a decade.
Continuing a commitment to sound fiscal policy Governor McDonnell further strengthened the long-term solvency of the Virginia Retirement system by reducing the anticipated unfunded liability of the system by $9 billion by 2031 with the largest statement investment in the system in Virginia history.
Virginia finished Fiscal Year 2012 with a $448.5 million surplus. The state Rainy Day Fund continued to grow, and at the end of the current biennium will be at its largest amount since 2008.
Governor McDonnell represents Virginia in other leadership roles as well. He served as Chairman of the Republican Governors Association, Chairman of the Southern Growth Policies Board, Chairman of the Southern Regional Education Board, and in numerous leadership roles for the National Governors Association.
It has been a long road leading to this point. But McDonnell has never been alone. For 36 years he and Maureen have been married. They now have 5 children, ages 21-31. Their oldest daughter, Jeanine, answered the same call to military service as her Dad and both her Grandfathers. She completed service in the U.S. Army, including a tour of duty in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005-2006.
Service, honor, hard work. Those are the values that have gotten Governor Bob McDonnell to this point. And they are the values that define his term as Virginia’s 71st Governor.