Photo by Jay Paul
Beginning in 1991, when he ran for and won a seat on Hanover County's board of supervisors, Republican Bill Bolling has climbed his way up the political ladder and waited patiently in the line of succession, with an eye on the governor's mansion. His plan foiled, of course, by an ambitious compatriot, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who narrowly lost this year's gubernatorial election. Bolling completes his term in January and spoke with us, one day after the election, about party politics and what's next on his horizon.
RM: When you look at the results of the Nov. 5 election for the state's top offices, including governor, what are your thoughts?
BB: As a Republican, it's a very disappointing outcome. I think we as a party have to learn some lessons from this election, and figure out what we need to do to get back on track. We need to be a more mainstream party.
To win elections, we have to do a better job of reaching out to key demographic groups: women, young people, growing populations of Hispanic voters and Asian voters, Indian voters.
If you look over the last decade -- go back from 2004 through 2013, the last 10 years -- there have been nine top-of-the-ticket statewide campaigns in Virginia, for president, United States senator or governor. Democrats have won 7 of the 9.
But, in truth, if you look at the results over the past decade, Virginia is more of a blue state than it is a red state. And that's a tough realization for Republicans to make.
RM: What are your plans after your term in office ends?
BB: I will probably go back to the private sector. As far as what the political future holds for me, I don't know the answer to that question. I want to be a part of getting the Republican Party back on track, and I'm always going to have an interest in public service. Whether that will involve a political office or not remains to be seen.
RM: Is there anything you would done differently over the past year, given the results of the gubernatorial campaign?
BB: I think I made the right decision in suspending my campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.
We seriously considered an independent run for governor. We came very close to doing that. But at the end of the day, I just couldn't bring myself to do it.
I'm a Republican. I'm not a happy Republican right now; I'm concerned about the current direction of our party, but I'm a Republican.
Out of that process, I've probably emerged with a stronger political voice than I've ever had before.
It has fallen on me to carry the message to my fellow Republicans that we need to get the party back to a more mainstream place.
It's a message that I don't think I otherwise would have been able to carry. Sometimes in life, you think you're preparing for one mission. And, in fact, you're being prepared for another mission.
RM: What do you hope to achieve with your recently launched Virginia Mainstream Project?
BB: The goals of this effort are really, I would say, fourfold: One is to recruit and support mainstream Republican candidates for public office, and we've done that. Second was to call our party back to a more mainstream place. Third was to find opportunities to get Democrats and Republicans talking together to actually solve problems and get things done. And then, finally, to offer some policy solutions to some of the important challenges that people face in Virginia.
We're going to take a pragmatic approach to getting things done, and try to get people to move beyond the rigid ideologies of the right or the left, and understand that problems cannot be solved by listening to the most extreme voices of either political party.
RM: You've mentioned that you wanted a new Freedom of Information (FOIA) law in Virginia, and you wanted to make government more transparent. Why do you think that's important?
BB: Well, there are a lot of people in the world today who don't trust government. There are rightful reasons and examples why people don't trust government.
When you look at our FOIA laws, they were originally written to make sure people had access to information held by government agencies, and that meetings held by public bodies were open to the public. But over the years what's happened is that we keep adding exceptions and exemptions to the list, so it gets harder and harder for average citizens to get access to public meetings or to get access to information held by governmental agencies.
You have to stay very vigilant when it comes to making certain that the affairs of government are transparent, because if the public views them as not being transparent, then that adds to the public's cynicism and distrust of government.
RM: What legacy do you think you'll leave?
BB: If people say, "I didn't always agree with him, but I respected the positions he took, and I'm convinced that he did what he did, because he thought it was in the best interests of Virginia" ― I can live with that.