Gov. Bob McDonnell took his "Virginia Speaks: A Conversation about Jobs, Government Reform and Our Future" town hall series to Harrisonburg Thursday night, speaking to a packed room that was a mixture of college students, elected officials, concerned citizens, and immigration protesters. It also included those who were happy to show support for a Governor they felt was guiding the Commonwealth with common sense leadership, and a number of his Cabinet members who traveled to Harrisonburg for the meeting.
Gov. McDonnell used humor to respond to some pointed questions about energy and immigration but he did not duck or avoid responding to anyone. His good-natured bantering was reminiscent of former President George W. Bush who was famous for his humorous off-the-cuff remarks.
A relaxed McDonnell engaged the audience in a conversation as he walked back and forth across the stage, looking eye-to-eye with four hundred citizens as he talked frankly about a variety of issues and concerns.
With a jumbo screen behind him, the Governor began the two-hour meeting with an update about his goals as Governor and what had been accomplished in his first seven months in office. Visuals outlined his points as a sign language interpreter relayed his words to the audience.
The Governor received applause when he talked about reopening Virginia's rest areas that had been closed in the summer of 2009 by then-Governor Tim Kaine (D), and jokingly added that rest areas were "good for those with big families and small bladders .... and I have both!"
He spent a good amount of time talking about his goal to privatize Virginia's ABC stores, which also brought applause from the audience, saying the money saved could be better used for transportation needs. He suggested, "Let's do well what government is supposed to do. But government cannot be all things to all people."
A questioner who said he was a beer distributor disagreed with privatization of the ABC stores because of the social impact on young people. The Governor countered by noting that studies showed most alcoholic problems were caused by beer and wine, two spirits that had been privatized for the past 76 years.
A comical point came when the questioner stood back up and said, "I did vote for you, Governor!" The audience chuckled and Gov. McDonnell laughingly said, "That's the one that put me over the top," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the 2009 gubernatorial race where he handily won with almost 60% of the vote.
Another light-hearted moment came when Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation, voiced concerns about federal legislation to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Standing at the microphone, he introduced himself and added, "This area is one of the biggest turkey producers." McDonnell didn't miss a beat as he retorted, "Was that before my Cabinet and I came to town?"
McDonnell was sympathetic listening to an illegal immigrant whose parents had brought her to this country when she was young but had not initiated citizenship for her. However, he gently stressed and reiterated that immigration laws needed to be enforced.
In response to a Charlottesville environmentalist who was against nuclear power, the Governor pointed out wide use of nuclear energy in Europe and its affordability in keeping energy rates low. He then asked if the questioner would be willing to pay more for electricity to which the questioner and several others said yes. Many in the audience shook their heads in disagreement and quietly wondered if he would be willing to pay for those who wanted low energy prices.
Another Charlottesville environmentalist was concerned about coal mining and claimed mountains were being "decapitated" by coal companies to which the Governor firmly stated that he was supportive of the coal industry because of jobs and the energy they provided.
The meeting ran 30 minutes longer than planned but many questions were answered and a sense of civility prevailed.
After spending the month of August traveling throughout the Commonwealth and stopping at Roanoke, Norfolk, Chester, Fredericksburg, Fairfax, and Harrisonburg, the Governor will have two final town halls in Danville and Bristol.
If you're going:
Danville: August 30, 2010 — 7:00pm-8:30pm
Institute for Advanced Learning and Research - Great Hall
150 Slayton Ave, Danville
Bristol: August 31, 2010 — 7:00pm-8:30pm
Bristol Public Library - J. Henry Kegley Meeting Room
701 Goode Street, Bristol
Cross-posted at The Washington Examiner
Instalanche at Instapundit
Danville: Hundreds attend McDonnell town hall