Reaction to McDonnell’s two-year prison sentence ranges from sadness to relief
Sadness and relief were among reactions to Tuesday’s two-year prison sentence for former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell during the sentencing outcome to his corruptions trial.
Longer range, politicians and political analysts wonder what impact the first felony conviction for a Virginia governor along with a jail term will have on ethics reform when the General Assembly convenes next week on Jan. 15.
Supporters and people who described themselves as “concerned citizens” packed into the U.S. District courthouse in Richmond yesterday to hear Judge James R. Spencer deliver the punishment for a man who was once a rising Republican star expected to make the short list for a vice presidential or even a presidential shot.
Virginia Hickey of Midlothian was the first person in line at 6:30 a.m. at the courthouse, which didn’t open to the public until 8 a.m., two hours before McDonnell’s 10 a.m. sentence hearing.
“I’ve been to this trial many times as a concerned citizen and business owner,” said Hickey of Tonda Enterprises, a company that sells products for automobiles. “It’s history in the making. It’s a sad time for our state … The man is basically a good man with a good heart who made poor judgments.”
Her reaction to the sentence: “It was fair and just. I think the judge did a remarkable job. “
Deborah Munoz, who traveled from Woodbridge, described herself as a McDonnell supporter and friend. While he was in office, the former governor had appointed Munoz to serve on the Virginia Latino Advisory Board. McDonnell also was friends with her husband, Tito, the owner of DeBorn Construction Inc., and worked with him on issues important to Hispanic Republican leaders in Northern Virginia.
“It could have been worse,” Munoz said of the sentence, referring to the longer prison term, six and a half years, sought by federal prosecutors. Federal sentencing guidelines called for as many as eight years and one month. “It was good to be reduced, but I prayed through the whole thing that the judge would give him community service.”
The state’s sitting governor weighed in as well. Democratic Terry McAuliffe said in a statement that the sentencing “brings an end to one of the most difficult periods in the history of Virginia state government. Like many Virginians, I am saddened by the effect this trial has had on our commonwealth’s reputation for clean, effective government. As we put this period behind us, I look forward to working with Virginia leaders on both sides of the aisle to restore public trust in our government.”
Other politicians, including House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford County, were among more than 400 people who sent letters of support for McDonnell to Judge Spencer. Included in those ranks were Terrie Suit, McDonnell’s former secretary of veterans affairs and homeland security; Janet Kelly, McDonnell’s former secretary of the commonwealth; and state Sens. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach and Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville.
Many public officials attended yesterday’s hearing along with Dominion CEO Tom Farrell, McDonnell’s classmate at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria.
McDonnell remains free until Feb. 9 when Spencer ordered him to report to prison. McDonnell’s defense team has requested that he be sent to a federal facility in nearby Petersburg, and they have asked the court to allow McDonnell to remain free on bond pending an appeal of his conviction.
Fallout from his corruption trail will continue when his wife, Maureen, is sentenced by Spencer on Feb. 20. Speculation already has begun on whether she will receive the same leniency given her husband, since she is not an elected public official.
Mrs. McDonnell was convicted on nine counts in September, with the judge later overturning one of the convictions. Following a six-week trial, a jury found the couple guilty of selling the influence of the governor’s office to a wealthy businessman pushing a dietary supplement who showered the first couple with $177,000 in gifts and loans.
Speaker Howell, one of 11 character witnesses who spoke on behalf of McDonnell during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, said he thinks legislators have gotten the message from federal prosecutors.
“It most certainly has had a deterrent effect,” he said of the McDonnell’s case. “Both the Senate and House caucuses have had people come to talk with them about what the case means to them as legislators. We need to dot all our I’s and cross all our T’s and be very careful.”
Last year, following the McDonnell’s’ indictment, the legislature passed what was viewed as a weak ethics package. It limited tangible gifts from a lobbyist or person seeking government contracts to $250 a year, but left no limits on nontangible gifts such as tickets, entertainment or travel. McAuliffe and other legislators have promised major reform this year. McAuliffe, who has created an ethics panel and wants an ethics review commission with the authority to investigate political wrongdoing, is pushing for a $100 gift ban.