My reaction to the McDonnell conviction was, as it was for most, a sickness in my stomach. We are sick because of the loss of such promise and hope. It was squandered. And for what?[read_more]
This is sobering. Setting aside real concerns about jury instructions that seem to change the definition of the law, and the fact that this leaves Virginia politicians potentially open to corruption charges for even the most innocuous “official act,” this case did not happen in a vacuum. Rather, it is one piece of a pattern in Richmond that we’re now seeing more often.
Delegate Morrissey’s indictment on hard evidence of an inappropriate relationship with a minor. The conviction of Delegate Hamilton who, as a budget conferee, secured state funding for a job for himself. He was able to do that because of an opaque budgeting process where no one really knows what’s in the budget except the few leaders who write it.
Further, Senator Puckett stepped down from his Senate seat, tipping the majority to Republicans, in order to clear the way for his daughter to become a judge and for the possibility of a job with the Tobacco Commission. The Tobacco Commission was capitalized initially with over $1 billion following the tobacco settlement. This money was supposed to benefit the residents in Southwest Virginia, yet there has never been any real oversight of where this money is going.
The disturbing thing about this culture in Richmond is the relative silence from the elected leaders who could publicly call this behavior for what it is: wrong. Everyone knows that if you publicly chide another elected official—especially if they are from your own party—you will get iced out. It’s because the chiding is interpreted as disloyalty. Perhaps if our elected leaders would instead regard such criticism as a warning that they are about to fall off a cliff, it might be more easily accepted. Senator Chap Peterson is the only one consistently willing to publicly comment and push his fellow elected leaders to do something to change this culture.
What is also disturbing is the disconnection from reality that many of our leaders have. Biblical references to suffering under trial refer to suffering for doing what is good. Even Governor McDonnell himself appears to be missing this very point. At a minimum, most accept that he behaved unethically.
Our leaders’ hands are not clean. They bear responsibility for the moral environment they cultivate. They owe it to each other and to us to hold each other accountable, and to set forth identifiable standards and lines that should not be crossed. Currently in Richmond, loyalty to friends and allies is elevated over loyalty to principle. Only our leaders have the power to change this, whether by rallying public pressure, issuing private admonitions to trusted colleagues who have strayed, or seeking true public accountability when a fellow elected leader falls off the ethical cliff.
Richmond hasn’t had this reputation until the last several years. This type of corruption has been more characteristic of Washington. But this trend of bad behavior by leaders from both parties demands true, meaningful ethics reforms. If our leaders do not do this on their own, then it is up to the people to demand these reforms. What these reforms will ultimately look like is open for further discussion, but without true ethics reform, our elected officials will continue to undermine themselves, further diminishing the trust the people have with their government. Without trust, there is no ability to lead.
Today’s sadness is not just for the personal pain the McDonnell family is feeling. It is also about the continued assault on our faith that our leaders have the moral resolve to do what is necessary for the success of our Commonwealth. I know Virginia has very talented, very dedicated leaders on both sides of the aisle who want to have a positive impact. Now is the time for them to step up.