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Virginia Governor Apologizes for Scandal During His Final State of the State

Gov. Bob McDonnell used his farewell address to the state to remind Virginians of the accomplishments during his four years as governor and to apologize for the "problems and the pain" caused by his involvement in a gifts scandal.

Read text and highlights of every governor's State of the State.

By Olympia Meola

Gov. Bob McDonnell used his farewell address to the state to remind Virginians of the accomplishments during his four years as governor and to apologize for the "problems and the pain" caused by his involvement in a gifts scandal.

"I'm not perfect," he said in a lengthy speech before the 2014 General Assembly that began Wednesday.

"I've always worked tirelessly to do my very best for the people of Virginia. I've set exceptionally high standards for myself. But, as a flawed human being, I've sometimes fallen short of my own expectations."

He said choices that he made were legal and that no person or company received any special benefits during his administration.

He understands, he said, there's been an "adverse public impression" of some of his decisions and that he has "prayed fervently over the last months that the collective good that we have done would not be obscured by this ordeal."

"So tonight, I say to all of you, and to all Virginians, that I am deeply sorry for the problems and the pain that I've caused for you during this past year."

Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said after the speech that he thinks it was "sincere remorse. It was an appropriate apology that came from the heart." "I hope that the people of Virginia will join me in accepting his apology," he said.

In his final State of the Commonwealth address, and virtually his last major act as governor, McDonnell offered a sweeping look back over his administration, which secured a landmark transportation funding plan that had eluded legislators for decades, and he urged lawmakers to stand behind some of his proudest achievements.

He ticked off a wide-ranging series of accomplishments, including conserving 232,000 acres of open space, and providing state employees with the first pay raise in six years and two 3 percent performance bonuses.

He credits passage of the transportation funding package -- which will generate billions in new funding over the next six years, thanks in part to fattened taxes -- to lawmakers who worked "across regional and partisan divides that were long deemed unbridgeable."

"I want to thank all of you who voted for that bill ... and the rest of you can still go back home and take credit for all the projects that we built."

Special guests also reflected focuses of his administration, including adoptive parents, the wives of two servicemen with the Virginia National Guard deployed in Afghanistan, and an executive with Bassett Furniture, which announced in December that it would expand its manufacturing plant in Henry County.

McDonnell greatly streamlined the process of restoring civil rights, and restored rights to more felons than any of his predecessors -- 8,013, he said Wednesday evening. He unsuccessfully sought legislation that would have changed the Virginia Constitution to allow for automatic restoration of rights for nonviolent felons who have completed their terms.

But following the defeat, he made the process as automatic as he thought he could administratively.

"I don't think that civil rights restoration should be subject to the arbitrary judgment of an individual governor. I think it should be a permanent part of our law," he said. "Therefore, in the coming years, I'm going to ask you again to take an important step for justice and pass a constitutional amendment to permit the automatic restoration of civil rights."

He used the spotlight to plug some of his other priorities, including his higher education efforts and the Opportunity Educational Institution, a statewide school division created to seize control of academically failing schools.

"In the eighth-most prosperous state in the nation, how can we tolerate a single child going to a failing school in Virginia?" he asked. "As I leave office, I implore you let OEI demonstrate that it will help those non-performing schools in Petersburg and Norfolk and Alexandria and other places that might come online."

The OEI squeaked out of the General Assembly, but its constitutionality is being challenged in court.

Among the work left to be done, he cited reforming the tax code, fighting for a balanced federal budget and something he tried but failed to do during his term -- end the "outdated and nonsensical state bourbon and vodka monopoly."

He asked the legislature to approve $11 million that he included in his final two-year budget for a national slavery and heritage site in Richmond.

McDonnell also asked the legislature to embrace the new administration, which takes office Saturday.

"Work where you can with Gov.-elect (Terry) McAuliffe, Lt. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, and Attorney General Mark Herring to continue to make Virginia a great 'commonwealth of opportunity' for all of our people," he said.

"I want to thank you for your incredibly warm friendship, your strong partnership, your can-do, results-oriented leadership, and now as I step aside from the very pinnacle of my life of public service, I want to thank God once again, for making me a Virginian."

(c)2014 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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