'You Can Be Anything'
FARMVILLE – “…If you remember nothing else I say, I want you to remember this,” Governor Bob McDonnell offered to Girls State participants packed into Jarman Auditorium Friday morning. “The American dream is alive and well in Virginia. We're the most business-friendly state in America-all the publications say that-where if you do work hard and dream big and be honest and help your neighbor and follow the Golden Rule you can be anything you want to be in America and in Virginia.
“It's a phenomenal thing about our country. No other country has the range of opportunities that we have here in America. But, you know, we're not just gonna stay like that. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of involvement. And it takes you.”
Girls State, sponsored by the American Legion in cooperation with school groups and social clubs (as noted on their website), focuses on citizenship and also helps the rising high school seniors from across Virginia learn about state officials (electing their own in Girls State) and how state government functions.
The Governor noted that the Girls State participants are the “best and brightest that Virginia has to offer. You're involved. You are leaders.” He added that they are “great young people.”
Governor McDonnell cited, “Democracy's not a spectator sport, you've heard. All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men or women to do nothing…so you've got to get involved.”
They've got to care, vote and learn about their government, he encouraged.
“…I was wondering what made you want to be in charge of a whole state as opposed to maybe a smaller area where it's a lot harder to talk with everybody,” one Girls Stater asked.
Gov. McDonnell, the former state attorney general, noted that when he was in charge of that office there were only 400 people in the office, a couple hundred lawyers and staff. “I got to know almost everybody by first name,” he said. “It was a lot easier.”
Their state government, he continued, has an $85 billion biennial budget and about 103,000 state employees.
“There's no way for me to personally know everybody and their story and motivate them. So it is difficult,” he said.
The Governor explained that “you have to use a little bit of a different leadership style.” He cited that he spent a lot of time hiring “the very, very best people I could find to be my cabinet officers. I have to trust them, to delegate to them. I try to give them a vision, give them the resources they need and then kick 'em in the fanny and tell 'em to go out there and do good work and don't make excuses and come …bring results. And that's what you have to do in a big organization.”
The governor later noted, “You have to trust people. You have to use a chain of command in order to be able to get things done in any big organization but it's an honor to do it.”
Another Girl's State participant asked about volunteering in campaigns.
He expressed a desire that everyone there, at least once, get involved in a political campaign-Democrat, Republican-to get involved so they can see what happens. He reflected that that was how he got started.
“One person really can make a difference,” Gov. McDonnell said. “There's an old saying, life is controlled by those who show up. You know, you've got to be on the field in order to play the game. You can sit in the stands and complain (and) nothing happens-other than complain, you feel better and nothing happens.”
There are “any number of opportunities to volunteer,” he offered, citing specific contests.
The Governor would also tell Girls Staters that some of the top people that have worked for him over his years have been people that have come out of either a high school or college and just made themselves available.
Another Girls Stater asked the Governor when he entered office what problem he thought Virginia needed to face right away as well as if it has been solved or if progress has been made to solve it.
“I got elected in 2009 and virtually every governor in the country was having the same problem, that is managing their budget,” Gov. McDonnell reflected. “So you remember the collapse on Wall Street and all the other problems back in 2008 and it created immediate deficits for most states. And, so, making a decision do I want to balance the budget without raising taxes or with raising taxes. Do I cut. Do we reform? What do we do?…We took the position that we ought to run government like you and your parents run your house. Don't spend more than you have and we need to consolidate.”
He added that they needed to cut, to reform, to reduce spending across the board in different areas, to set priorities, but that they were not going to raise taxes “on you in the middle of an economic recession.”
The governor detailed that they have eliminated the budget deficit and have for the last two years had about a billion dollars in surplus and this year are growing at a rate of about 1.5 percent greater than the budget estimate at six percent and headed towards another budget surplus.
“So I think those principles have actually worked for us in Virginia,” Gov. McDonnell assessed.
He was also asked if he were always interested in government law or if he had practiced private law. Gov. McDonnell noted that he went back to law school after being in the army and business. He encouraged them to be a life-long learner and be willing to change directions.
After law school, he detailed, he wanted to be a prosecutor (he had done an internship at a prosecutor's office in Chesapeake) and “thought it was really great standing up for victim's rights and making sure the bad guys got punished and…went to jail…got a lot of satisfaction out of that.”
He was the assistant commonwealth's attorney in Virginia Beach, but two years later he was elected to the state legislature. One couldn't be in the legislature and commonwealth's attorney at the same time then. McDonnell then went into private practice for 14 years. He did that until elected as Virginia's Attorney General.
“…I would say for everybody here-back to the campaign question-at some point in your life, I'd urge all of you consider public service. It's not generally as lucrative-you don't make as much money as you make in the private sector-but there's a sense of satisfaction that you get by working hard and in a public service area where your sole mission is to make your government services and a quality of life for your fellow Virginians better…It makes you sleep pretty well at night when you can do that.”
Service to others, he would also offer, to him, is the highest calling in life.
In his presentation, the governor also highlighted that they have been trying to do some positive things to make the state better over the last couple of years.