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McDonnell Wins Political Gains After the Buzzer

Peter Galuszka

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Now into its second year, the governorship of Robert F. McDonnell has had its ups and downs. But the Republican governor is getting good at one thing — last-minute ploys to get what he wants if his initiatives fail elsewhere.

In recent weeks, McDonnell has racked up a number of wins, albeit ones achieved by last minute tinkering, brinksmanship or plays that border on subterfuge. The schemes push his socially conservative agenda, but also at times fly in the face of his Republican colleagues.

After failing twice to chop state funding for National Public Radio in the General Assembly, he deployed a line-item veto to take $424,000 away from a network that conservatives claim has leftist tendencies.

When he disliked an election redistricting plan backed by many in the GOP establishment, he vetoed it without first telling House Speaker William J. Howell, a prominent Republican. In doing so, he undermined months of work that the Republicans spent on the plan, which will be decided by the courts. "It puts elections in real turmoil," Delegate R. Steven Landes, R-Augusta County, was reported as saying.

The McDonnell schemes go all the way to Capitol Hill. Unhappy that President Barack Obama had pushed back proposed lease sales of possible oil drilling tracts off the Virginia shore until 2017, McDonnell struck back. Obama delayed the lease sale until further study of offshore drilling safety in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill last year that was the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

McDonnell envisions Virginia becoming "the energy capital of the East Coast." So, working with a fellow Republican, U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, McDonnell helped push legislation to advance the lease sale again. It passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Thursday by a 266-149 vote, but it faces an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

McDonnell cut his teeth on the art of brinksmanship last year when he championed a plan to restrict abortion funding that squeaked by in the state Senate by a 20-19 vote.

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