On Saturday, January 16, shortly after noon, Robert F. McDonnell was inaugurated as the seventy-first Governor of Virginia, following in the footsteps of Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. The day in Richmond was warm and sunny, in sharp contrast to the severe winter weather we have been having lately; the gods smiled that day.
Bob McDonnell took the forty-word oath of office with his hand on a Latin Vulgate Bible that was given to his great-grandparents in Ireland on their wedding day in 1876. William T. Bolling was sworn in for a second term as Lieutenant Governor, and Kenneth T. Cuccinelli took the oath of office as Attorney General. After the swearing in, there was a nineteen-gun salute from a large artillery battery, and a fly-over by four F-22 jets.
Having attended such an event for the first time, I was very impressed.
There were about 8000 people present. Dignitaries included seven former governors: Charles Robb, Linwood Holton, L. Douglas Wilder, George Allen, Timothy M. Kaine, Gerald L. Baliles, and Jim Gilmore. As I sat in the stands before the proceedings started while the Williamsburg Fife and Drum Corp. marched in and played, I noticed some of the people walking by: Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas (one of my heroes), a four star army general and his one star companion, Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Chairman Pat Mullins, former Lieutenant Governor and former RPV Chairman John Hager, evangelist Pat Robertson, Congressman Eric Cantor - minority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives. I saw the seven (yes, seven) Cuccinelli children.
In his speech, McDonnell talked about the sweep of history that has played out in Virginia, starting in 1607 with the one hundred and four men and boys who established the first permanent English settlement in America, Jamestown, that would ultimately spread from sea to shining sea as the United States of America, the richest, most powerful nation in the world. He made reference to the eight Virginians who have become President of those United States, and whose busts were behind him in the Rotunda of the state Capitol. He recounted how in this same state capitol, Robert E. Lee, the son of a Virginia governor and Revolutionary War hero, accepted command of the Commonwealth’s military forces as the young nation slipped into civil war. He noted that Abraham Lincoln walked these same streets pondering how to heal the torn nation after Richmond fell to the Federals in 1865, marking the beginning of the end of that catastrophic period in our nation’s history.
McDonnell also remembered that it was in this same capitol 125 years after the civil war that the grandson of a slave, L. Douglas Wilder, became the nation’s first African-American governor.
And on this day, as McDonnell put it, an average middle-class kid from Fairfax, a grandson of Irish immigrants, became the seventy-first governor of Virginia.
McDonnell then turned to the issues and stayed on a theme of opportunity founded in our country’s first principles. He talked about the government’s responsibility to provide equal opportunity to all, but recognized that it is not the government’s responsibility to ensure equal outcomes for all. He said all Virginians must have the same fundamental opportunities to work hard, live free, and succeed. He talked about “fulfilling Virginia’s promise”, and creating “A Commonwealth of Opportunity”. He outlined plans to utilize innovation, privatization, and consolidations to deliver government services more effectively, thus reducing the size and cost of government. He restated his plan to make Virginia the “energy capitol of the East Coast” by utilizing the state’s coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and off-shore oil resources, which will create thousands of high paying jobs and increased tax revenues as well as meet the country’s energy needs. Educational opportunity will be expanded via charter schools and pay-for-performance for teachers. Finally, he said we must seize the opportunity to improve Virginia’s transportation systems by getting long overdue projects going and utilizing innovation, without raising taxes.
In closing, McDonnell said that people who say that America’s and Virginia’s best days are behind them are wrong. He said, “Let us heed the words of the Father of our Country, employ these eternal rules of order and right, and get to work for the good of the people of Virginia”.
Then the parade started. There were marching bands from around the state, colonial re-enactors, veterans groups, ethnic dancers, students, Boy Scouts , Girl Scouts, and others. Also, a group of Washington Redskin Cheerleaders alumnae marched by, in honor of one of their own, Maureen McDonnell, now First Lady of Virginia, who was a Redskinette in the 1970’s.
Saturday night, the Inaugural Ball was held in the Richmond Convention Center, with over 5000 tickets being sold. Governor and First Lady McDonnell had the first dance to “You’re Still The One”, sung by their daughter, Jeanine. They looked very elegant in his tuxedo with tails and white tie and her ice-blue evening gown. Very graceful, too. I wonder if they practiced.
One of the truly great and remarkable aspects of our form of government is that we have an orderly and peaceful transfer of power via elections. Outgoing Democrat Governor Tim Kaine has now turned the governorship over to incoming Republican Governor Bob McDonnell in a cordial and smooth transition. We do this better than any other country in the world. It was a privilege to be a small part of the events.
Jan. 18, 2010