Bill Bolling’s Motives

Published February 22, 2013

In Virginia, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling says he will make his decision on whether or not to run for governor as independent next month. The latest poll from Quinnipiac shows he turns an even race, with attorney general Ken Cuccinelli tied with Terry McAuliffe at 38 percentage points apiece, into a narrow McAuliffe lead. 

Ever since Bolling stepped back from the contest for the Republican nomination for governor, he’s embarked on a comprehensive public effort to display all the reasons he would have lost a lopsided race to Cuccinelli. Bolling has broken with his fellow Virginia Republicans on issue after issue, undercutting their policy positions in the press and courting the favor of McAuliffe.  The Democratic candidate has said he’d “like to make [Bolling] one of my first appointments… I’d love to work with him as a team.”

There’s little question that Bolling’s no longer on the Republican team. His most recent policy split with Gov. Bob McDonnell and his fellow Republicans is a major one: backing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which accepts a short-term federal funding boost but saddles Virginia taxpayers with billions of dollars in additional long-term costs.

The Medicaid expansion is a classic example of big-government wrongheadedness. It would force poor Virginians into an already overcrowded program with the worst outcomes of any government health care system and put future taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars in matching payments. The Obama administration has opposed meaningful Medicaid reform, including rejecting the possibility of partial expansion in return for block-granting the system to provide more flexibility, one reason Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker recently rejected the expansion. And regardless of whether the funds come from the federal government or the Commonwealth, they will come from the pockets of already overtaxed Virginia workers to fund the greatest expansion of the entitlement state since the Great Society.

Bolling’s shifting position on the Medicaid expansion also represents a total break from his prior support for Virginia’s bipartisan Health Care Freedom Act, which took a bold stand against the individual mandate. The Obama administration recently ruled those eligible for Medicaid in states that do not expand the program will not be subject to the individual mandate. But Bolling wants to force them into a system so broken that a recent University of Virginia study found surgical patients on Medicaid were 97 percent more likely to die on the table than those with private insurance, and 13 percent likelier than the uninsured.

Since Bolling has atrocious name ID, no likely path to victory, and few moneyed backers of his own, he’ll be dependent on McAuliffe-friendly spoiler money for any potential campaign.

Bolling’s obviously motivated by his personal bitterness at being passed over for what was, ostensibly, “his turn” to run for the top job, as if a shot at the governor’s mansion were equivalent to a turn on the swing set. But what few commentators have noted thus far, however, is the obvious financial incentive Bolling has for buttering up McAuliffe, who has publicly teased the possibility of appointing the lieutenant governor to a cabinet position if the Democrat wins the race for governor. Were Bolling to retire after his current tenure, he would be eligible for retirement benefits from the state based only on his current lieutenant governor salary of $36,321.

Bolling has spent much of his career talking of service to the Old Dominion as a goal rather than monetary reward. But like many politicians in Virginia before him, as the end of his career approaches he’s looking for a way to significantly increase the retirement payments he can draw from future Virginia taxpayers. A cabinet position in the McAuliffe administration could more than quadruple Bolling’s state-funded income, dramatically increasing his retirement payout.

There’s an easy way to clear this up: should Bolling announce that he will enter the race, he should also forswear serving in any position in a McAuliffe administration. He should be clear he won’t accept a cabinet appointment which would boost his retirement. Instead, he should focus on a worthy motivation for running: his dedication to serving the best interests of the Commonwealth.

For his own sake, Bolling ought to make this very clear. Otherwise, everyone will assume his motivations lie elsewhere. 

Benjamin Domenech is editor of The Transom. Click here to subscribe.

[First published at RealClearPolitics.]