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Virginia Republicans Respond to the Supreme Court's McDonnell Ruling

Associated Press

With today's Supreme Court ruling, many Virginia politicians are speaking up in support of the state's ex-Governor. But they're also thinking about what the ruling means for politics in the Commonwealth.

Virginia Speaker of the House Bill Howell, a Republican from Northern Virginia, is breathing a sigh of relief for his friend, former Governor Bob McDonnell. 

"Bob would always be the first to tell you that he takes responsibility for his actions. And he's been incredibly strong during this ordeal that he's been through," says Howell. "But now hopefully the nightmare is over."

But Delegate Greg Habeeb, a Republican from Southwest Virginia, is also breathing a sigh of relief for the state. 

"I do think our system is better today than it was yesterday, because the system now has defined rules, what is or isn't an official act is clear. Hopefully this goes towards restoring the public trust," says Habeeb. 

And public trust has, in some part, been broken. According to Christopher Newport's Center for Public Policy, 64-percent of Virginians are skeptical that the state's political culture is honest and ethical, while 62-percent approved of McDonnell’s two-year jail sentence -- which he's now unlikely to serve. 

But Habeeb says the Supreme Court's ruling, which more clearly defines lines of legal right and wrong, will have an impact going forward. 

"I think anybody observing this, especially elected officials I know, who have seen this trial, have really learned lessons from it," says Habeeb.

Speaker Howell, though, says for the most part Virginia lawmakers don't need to learn any lessons.

"I don't think it's going to change the way anybody does anything because I think that 99-percent of all of us in elected office are there for the right reasons," Howell says. "And we represent our people, our constituents, and we do it for the right reasons." 

Quentin Kidd, a political analyst at Christopher Newport University, doesn't disagree that Virginia politicians have their hearts in the right places -- but he does think Virginia's way of politics has come under close scrutiny since the McDonnell court case.

“The ruling today essentially affirmed the practice of politics that has gone on in Virginia for years and years prior to Bob McDonnell being charged," says Kidd. 

Until recently, Virginia’s ethics laws didn’t limit what politicians could take from lobbyists or constituents — instead, regulation depended on transparency, and prohibited lawmakers from a quid pro quo exchange. 

“And Bob McDonnell argued that he didn’t do anything quid pro quo for anything he got and that argument won in the Supreme Court today, and so in that case Virginia’s historical practice of regulating the behavior of elected officials and people who would want to influence them won today,” says Kidd. 


Mallory Noe-Payne is a Radio IQ reporter based in Richmond.
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