WASHINGTON – Republican Robert McDonnell’s win Tuesday in the Virginia gubernatorial elections could roll back gains in that state’s cooperation with Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay and other policy issues, experts warned Wednesday.
Outgoing Democratic Gov. Timothy Kaine has had “a very cooperative, positive relationship” with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, said Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at Virginia’s George Mason University.
This relationship, Rozell said, is, in part, due to Kaine’s and O’Malley’s shared party affiliation, as well as their similar views on issues such as the environment and the Chesapeake Bay.
“We are likely to see a significant reversal of course on a number of such issues with a Republican administration,” Rozell said.
Efforts to promote bay health by establishing stronger environmental regulations for companies in adjacent and tributary states might clash with McDonnell’s economic and political standpoints, Rozell said.
“McDonnell has said repeatedly that he wants less government, fewer regulations, free up the marketplace,” Rozell said. “We all know these are code phrases that suggest that environmental regulations may be weakened or not enforced as strictly.”
In his acceptance speech Tuesday night, McDonnell spoke briefly about the plight of watermen on the Chesapeake Bay, but did not provide clues as to what policies he might pursue regarding the bay.
According to a statement on his campaign’s web site, “Bob McDonnell is committed to working with the other Chesapeake Bay states to continue responsible policies to protect and improve the health of the Bay.”
McDonnell’s campaign office did not return several calls requesting comment.
The O’Malley administration is still evaluating how the election will impact cooperation on the bay, Shaun Adamec, O’Malley’s deputy press secretary, said.
“I think it’s important that we all recognize that these are issues that certainly transcend politics,” Adamec said. “We all have a common goal to build a better future for the people of our states, and we will certainly work towards that with Governor McDonnell.”
Gerald Winegrad, an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, said he was concerned about the lack of discussion on bay-related issues during the campaign. Winegrad served as a state legislator in Maryland for 16 years, during which time he wrote and sponsored a number of bills on environmental regulation and the Chesapeake Bay.
“It doesn’t seem like the bay has been made an issue, which is kind of tragic,” Winegrad said. “We need a strong governor in Virginia on the environment.”
However, it would be unwise to make blanket assumptions, Winegrad said, since “Republicans have done good things for us in the past on these issues.”
Among the key institutions for cooperation between Maryland and Virginia is the Chesapeake Bay Commission. The commission consists of legislators, Cabinet members and citizen representatives from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Its key task is to coordinate bay policy across state lines.
“I think this is a time that we need to work closely to make sure that Governor-elect McDonnell has a pretty acute understanding of the criticality of not doing something to help the bay,” said Bernie Fowler, the citizen representative for Maryland.
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources also hopes to continue cooperating closely with Virginia on bay issues, said Josh Davidsburg, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“We still look at Virginia as a partner and we’re willing to work with whoever is in office, and hopefully they’ll be able to build on the successes we’ve had in the past with (the Kaine) administration.”
These successes include a significant increase in the bay’s blue crab population over the past year, after O’Malley and Kaine agreed to collaborate on conservation measures for the species.
“I do think that on issues like restoring the Chesapeake Bay, hopefully we’ve gotten ourselves to a point in time where it goes beyond political party,” said Frank Dawson, assistant secretary for aquatic resources at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
“Our expectation is that our working relationship with the Commonwealth of Virginia is going to continue to be very productive on natural resources and environment-related issues.”