A tale of two governors

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By Rick Howell

Bob McDonnell’s first year after leaving office as Virginia governor wasn’t supposed to be like this.
    Instead of basking in the glow of a successful term as a high-profile governor who was on Mitt Romney’s short list as VP, McDonnell faces a federal trial instead.
    In New Jersey, this was supposed to be a positive year of transition for Chris Christie, parlaying an easy re-election as governor into a roll out in 2015 as a GOP presidential candidate.
    But both men have hit some major potholes in the road to their preferred destinations. McDonnell and his wife have been indicted and face federal trial later this year.
    Christie is under federal investigation, too, as the result of a “traffic scandal” in which his administration may have intentionally caused an hours-long traffic jam just to thwart a local Democratic mayor.
    Virginians have followed the McDonnell story with a mixture of sadness and surprise, the kind of reaction one has when smart people do stupid things.
    McDonnell had always been known as a “Christian conservative,” and was a product of Pat Robertson’s Regent University. Robertson himself was said to have taken a lot of pride in McDonnell’s career, and in his rise to the governorship.
    Such people – and by that I mean those who put their religious faith on such public display – are supposed to know more than the average person, perhaps, about the dangers of “sins of the flesh” and of being on the wrong side of the struggle between worshiping God and mammon (money).
    Yet, money – the desire for it, or maybe a heartfelt need that they just didn’t have enough – is at the heart of the McDonnell’s troubles.
    Early on, after meeting Johnnie Williams, the CEO of Star Scientific, Maureen McDonnell in particular, it seems, began to see him as a source for alleviating her and her husband’s financial concerns.
    Warned not to accept an inaugural dress from Williams in early 2010, she responded with the now-famous message: “We are broke.” She mentioned “an unconscionable amount of credit card debt,” saying her husband was “screaming at me” for additional credit card charges, and that “this inaugural is killing us.”
    It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, that such a political couple – particularly one rising to the governorship of a state – could really be “broke” as we working class people understand that word? I’m betting that their standards for “broke” was different than what most of us hold.
    At any rate, it’s clear from the indictment that the McDonnells then began to see Williams as a kind of “sugar daddy” who could help them with money. The legal question, of course, is whether it went beyond that and he actually benefited from any state-sanctioned or sponsored help for his company from the administration.
    In New Jersey, there have long been rumors that Chris Christie is different from the affable and articulate moderate that he portrays. Critics who haven’t been seen in national media have long said that Christie is a “bully” who stops at nothing to roll over a political opponent.
    If that’s the worst of it, well, many would see that as “politics as usual.” But if that penchant spurred him to create a vicious traffic jam where an elderly woman died because EMTs couldn’t reach her in time, well, he’s finished.
    He fired a top aide, spent hours delivering a very public apology, but is still far from being off the hook. Until things clear, it’s hard to play the role of presidential wannabe.
    Not long ago, McDonnell and Christie were two of the brightest lights in the national GOP. But politics is a contact sport, and things can change fast.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at RickDem117@gmail.com.