Gov. McDonnell On His New National Influence

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia was named chairman of the Republican Governors Association last week. Guest host John Ydstie talks to McDonnell, whose new role could play an important part in the coming national elections.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host: Another Republican governor made a move on to the national scene this past week. Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia was named chairman of the Republican Governor's Association. While that role isn't as dramatic as Governor Perry's high-octane campaign, it could influence the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Governor McDonnell joins us now. Good morning, Governor.

Governor BOB MCDONNELL: Hey. Good morning, John. Nice to be on with you.

YDSTIE: Nice to be on with you and congratulations on your new job.

MCDONNELL: Well, it's a part-time job. Staff does most of the work, but I believe that the organization has been very influencing on electing a Republican governor so we're making a difference now and making tough decisions for our country.

YDSTIE: Yeah. You said in a statement that the Republican Governor's Association could have an unprecedented impact on this election cycle. How so?

MCDONNELL: Well, we've got 11, perhaps 12 races for governor next year and in virtually all those races they are battleground states. In the last 30 years, 75 percent of the time when a Republican governor wins the election, a U.S. candidate for Senate also is a Republican who wins. So there's a correlation there and we're going to work harder to keep more Republican governors elected. We'll have an ancillary, in fact, on the Senate and Presidential races.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm. Governor Perry stepped down from the Republican Governor's Association post to run for President. I wonder if your being named his replacement is a signal from your fellow governors that maybe you ought to be on the presidential ticket next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MCDONNELL: Now (unintelligible) to other prognosticators. I've been the vice chairman for the last eight months, so naturally by operation of law I become chairman when Governor Perry stepped down. But look, it's a tremendous honor to be a leader of a national organization.

That after just a year and a half in office, I believe that this is the kind of organization that really is going to have an impact federalism, for long-term spending cuts and to be a pretty strong voice working with the federal government to help get our country back on track. Everybody knows we're in a lot of trouble now with $14 trillion in debt and growing and no coherent plan to get out of it. We'd like to be a part of the solution.

YDSTIE: Are you interested in being on the ticket as a vice presidential candidate?

MCDONNELL: Well, that's completely up to the nominee. That's close to a year off. I think any governor that got a call from a presidential candidate and said, hey, I'd like you on the ticket, you can help the country, of course people would be interested in that.

But I'm not campaigning or looking for it. I've got the best job in America being governor of Virginia, held by Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry to start with. So I've got plenty of (unintelligible) over in leading Virginia right now.

YDSTIE: This past Thursday your office reported a budget surplus of nearly $545 million in Virginia. The Census Bureau actually reports that Virginia is second only to Alaska in federal dollars spent in the state. I'm wondering, do you support your fellow Republicans calls for sharp reductions in federal spending, given that Virginia depends on it

MCDONNELL: Well, it's a double-edged sword. We do, particularly in northern Virginia because of defense and procurement and other things. Virginia is second highest in the country per capita defense of per capita federal spending, but it's inevitable that the federal government is going to have to contract and do more with less.

I mean, we're broke. We cannot keep up this rate of spending. And so, yes, I support them and we and what that $545 million surplus, what we need to be able to do is begin to plan ahead for those reductions at the federal level that must and will come. And we outlined a couple of reserve funds that we're creating to be able to bolster our situation and, more importantly, to help to diversify our economy away from some of the federal dependence.

So it's going to be a long, probably a decades-long transition of the economy in Virginia to rely on more private sector things. But I'll tell you, most of the job growth over the last two years that I've been governor of Virginia has been private sector jobs, not public sector.

YDSTIE: Bob McDonnell is the governor of Virginia and the new chairman of the Republican Governor's Association. Thanks so much for your time, Governor.

MCDONNELL: Thank you, John.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

YDSTIE: You're listening to NPR News.

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