McDonnell Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

On Tuesday a federal judge sentenced former governor Bob McDonnell to two years in prison, calling his corruption case “tragic from beginning to end,” reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Family and friends of McDonnell wept in the first row of the courtroom as McDonnell, flanked by his lawyers, quietly stood as Judge James R. Spencer handed down the ruling. The only consolation for McDonnell and his supporters is that the two year sentence is much less than the 10-12 years which were recommended  by federal authorities.

McDonnell pleaded for Spencer to show mercy to his wife Maureen, who was convicted of eight charges, whose sentencing is set for February 20th.

Federal Lawsuit Seeks to Challenge Virginia’s State Electoral Districts

The Washington Post is reporting that voters in a dozen House of Delegates districts have come together to file a federal lawsuit that will challenge the current legislative map which they claim illegally concentrates African American voters, thus decreasing their influence.

The lawsuit was filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. It comes after an October decision by the court that determined that the state’s current congressional map “packs” African American voters into a single district, a decision which Congressional Republicans have since appealed.

William J. Howell (R-Stafford), Speaker of the House of Delegates, says that he remains confident that the state’s legislative map will hold up against legal challenge.

“The House districts were drawn in accordance with all federal and state law, adopted with bipartisan support after more than a dozen public hearings and committee meetings, and pre-approved by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department in accordance with the Voting Rights Act,” said Howell.

He also added that the map was “publicly supported by a majority of African American members in the House of Delegates.”

The congressional lawsuit and the state-focused lawsuit were both filed by lawyers from the Washington law firm Perkins Coie, who were unavailable to comment. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), through a spokesman, also declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Gilmore Considers Return to Politics

According to The Washington Post, former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III has made a series of high profile speeches which may signal a return to politics.

Gilmore’s speeches are focusing on what he feels is ailing the national GOP. The former governor, who was in office from 1998 to 2002, plans to visit the early nominating states of New Hampshire and Iowa next month. The trip also includes a stop at Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) conservative summit.

In the last few weeks before this November’s midterms Gilmore created a super PAC that aired television commercials for candidates from both New Hampshire and Iowa, as well as Virginia.

Gilmore’s recent activity has many Virginians wondering if he is eyeing a potential presidential run next year.  In an interview last week Gilmore declined to comment on whether or not he is serious about a possible presidential run.

“It’s too early to really tell you any answers where we’re going here,” he said. “But I am committed to addressing the central problems facing the nation.

Webb Defends PAC’s Payments to Family Members

Former U.S. senator and 2016 presidential hopefully Jim Webb is defending the payments of tens of thousands of dollars from his political action committee to family members, reports The Washington Post.

Over $90,000 has been paid to Webb’s daughter and wife by The Born Fighting PAC for their work on both the design and management of his websites according to this report published by Business Insider.

A spokesman for Webb said Tuesday that the work of his daughter and wife is “real and provable”, and did not confirm the dollar amount reported by Business Insider that were taken from filings made in compliance with campaign finance law.

“Adding up numbers across several years for a sensational headline doesn’t tell the story,” says Webb spokeswoman Ashleigh Owens. “Since its inception the Born Fighting PAC has supported Senator Webb’s vision of leadership, both with respect to issues he continues to advance and also to support candidates.”

These payments could pose difficulties for Webb, the first democrat to officially announce candidacy for the 2016 election, as he works to build a national network equipped to compete with Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current front-runner for the 2016 nomination.

Panel Adopts Ideas for Redistricting

On Monday the government integrity panel created by Gov. Terry McAuliffe adopted recommendations for the overhaul of Virginia’s redistricting process, reports The Washington Post.

The panel hopes to amend the Virginia Constitution to create a separate commission which would redraw districts and pass a law that prohibits that commission from using election results to consider where to set boundaries.

Both of these measures will have to be approved by the legislature, which is going to be especially unlikely in the House, where many similar bills have died in committee. One proposal would need to be approved by voters.

In response to a recent ruling that declared Virginia’s congressional map unconstitutional, the panel reccommended that McAuliffe along with the general assembly work hand in hand to redraw the congressional districts.

“For the members of the legislature, this is a question of sheer political power,” said former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling (R) who co-chairs the panel with former congressman Rick Boucher (D). “The challenge is going to be trying to get the legislators to be willing to put people’s interest ahead of political interest or their own political interest.”

McDonnell’s Lawyers Now Tackle Page Counts

Bob McDonnell’s defense lawyers are not fighting for a page count on McDonnell’s sentencing memorandum, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch. His lawyers have filed a motion asking U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer to be allowed to surpass the 30-page limit on the memorandum.

“The government will likely ask for a very substantial prison sentence for conduct the defense submits is outside the heartland for public corruption cases,” McDonnell’s lawyers wrote.

The lawyers also claim that the extra pages are necessary to completely address “the entire life of the defendant.” They are seeking the ability to be able to file a 50-page memorandum on Dec. 23, the date which all of the parties are required to file their positions on sentencing. The U.S. attorney’s office remains opposed to the request.

“Mr. McDonnell stands before this court convicted of 11 felonies. He should be afforded no greater or lesser consideration from this court than an other defendants. As such, his motion that the court set aside the page limitations…for every other criminal defendant should be denied,” wrote the U.S. attorney’s office. They also argue that more than 30 pages of briefing is unnecessary.

Prosecutors also wrote, “Mr. McDonnell testified on direct examination, without objection from the Government, about the vast majority of his life, including: his parents’ background, times at high school, ROTC scholarship to Notre Dame, military experience, law school experience, prosecutorial experience, experience as a private practice attorney, his children and siblings, his General Assembly experience, his campaigns for  Virginia attorney general and governor, his professional accomplishments as an elected official and his relationship with his wife.”

Prosecutors continue to defend the need for the extension in order to present ” a full analysis of the unusual factors that distinguish this case and this defendant from any other public-corruption case on record.”

McDonnell and his wife Maureen are set to be sentencing on Feb. 20, after they were convicted in September by a federal jury for accepting more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from former StarScientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams, in exchange for promoting the company’s new dietary supplement.

Brian Moran is Panel’s Recommendation for Climate Coordinator

Brian Moran, Governor Terry McAuliffe’s secretary of public safety will add another job to his duties, reports The Richmond Times-Dispatch. He will become Virginia’s first climate-change coordinator.

During a meeting on Friday at the College of William and Mary, the McAuliffe appointed state-climate commission voted in favor of recommending Moran for the job.

In an interview Moran said, “State government is very much engaged in this issue,” adding,”We are addressing this is a very broad and comprehensive fashion. We are reaching out to anyone including industry, who is willing to play a role in addressing this challenge.”

In the next few days Moran will be officially appointed, said a spokesperson for Governor McAuliffe.

Cale Jaffe, director of the Virginia office of the Southern Environmental Law Center and a member of the climate commission called Moran, “a fabulous choice,” citing his sound record on environmental and climate issues.

The climate commission on Friday was a part of a daylong meeting of government leaders and others concerned about costal flooding which is being caused by sea levels that are rising as a result of global warming.

Another Virginia Politician May Be Looking at a 2016 Bid

According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, on Saturday former Gov. Jim Gilmore made hints at a possible presidential bid in 2016 as he laid out his national plan for job creation, tax reform and national security for Virginia Republicans at the annual Donald W. Huffman Advance.

“People are concerned with the future,” Gilmore said at the event, named after the former chairman of Virginia’s GOP.

He continued, “It is our duty as Republicans to make it clear that the free-market system is an ally of the people.” Gilmore now serves as the head of the Free Congress Foundation, a conservative policy organization and was the governor from 1998-2002.

“The growth of the United States’ economy is the only way out of the challenges we face,” proclaimed Gilmore, calling for a cut of both personal and corporate income taxes and an elimination of the estate tax.

Gilmore showed interest for the 2008 GOP nomination, but dropped out in July of 2007 after struggling to raise money. On Saturday he stated that he wouldn’t rule out another run.

Webb Has Harsh Words for the Democratic Party

” A party of interest groups”, is how former Virginia senator and potential presidential candidate Jim Webb described the Democratic Party to an audience Tuesday in Richmond, reports The Washington Post. He attributed this to the reason the Democrats have lost the demographic of white working-class voters.

“The Democratic Party has lost the message that made it such a great party for so many years, and that message was: Take care of working people, take care of the people who have no voice in the corridors of power, no matter their race, ethnicity or any other reason,” said Webb. “The Democratic Party has basically turned into a party of interest groups.”

These comments came in Webb’s first address since announcing that he ha formed an exploratory committee and has began to raise funds for a possible presidential run in 2016. He was at the AP Day event, an annual forum sponsored by The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Webb, along with a handful of other Democrats, are challenging the notion that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the party’c nomination in 2016. Webb has continually declined to answer questions comparing himself to Clinton, who is widely expected to dominate the Democratic field provided she decides to run.

These comments continue Webb’s goal of defining himself as alternative within the party that he feels has become too familiar with special interests and too unfocused on the disadvantaged.

 

State’s Board of Health to Vote on Review of Abortion Clinic Rules

On Wednesday Governor McAuliffe appointed an abortion rights advocate and former lawmaker to the Board of Health, reports The Washington Post. This decision came just in time for Thursday’s scheduled vote regarding whether the commonwealth will start to overhaul abortion provider regulations.

The Board of Health is to make a decision on whether or not they should amend abortion clinic rules, which would include their tough, hospital-style building codes which abortion rights activists contend threaten to block access to the state’s remaining clinics.

Advocates who are opposed to abortion hold that the strict codes are in place to ensure safety for women as well as access for emergency personnel. Some are still hopeful that a review of the current regulations would result in even stronger restrictions on clinics, rather than weaken them.

Abortion has long been a polarizing issue for Virginia lawmakers. The Board of Health’s vote, which would begin a long process, represents the newest chapter of this struggle.

McAuliffe’s appointment of Mary Margaret Whipple, a 15-year General Assembly veteran from Arlington, strengthens the chances there will be a vote to overhaul.