Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, suggested Tuesday that Gov. Bob McDonnell, R-Va., consider resigning after months of scandalous news reports recounting how his family accepted expensive gifts from a donor.
Petersen was the first state legislator to suggest resignation, which he attributes to the state's political culture - with its lax financial disclosure laws and infrequent criminal sagas.
"We don't have any history of public officials being indicted or going to prison," Petersen told U.S. News Friday. "There was deafening silence on the issue so I decided to step forward. I wrote the letter because I think it represents the opinion of a lot of Virginians who have questions."
Petersen said he's unaware of any other legislators planning to recommend that the popular governor, who is being investigated by the FBI, consider resignation.
"To be honest I'm kind of an army of one at this point," he said. "I'm sort of out on an island. I know other people have called me and said, 'Right on, Gen. Custer,'" referencing the U.S. Army officer who died during a famous last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.
In a statement provided to U.S. News earlier this week, McDonnell spokeswoman Taylor Keeney denounced Petersen's recommendation as a "blatantly political statement."
Petersen said that the "fairly extraordinary value" of the gifts, however, attract necessary suspicion. "We've all received gifts and donations," he said, "but this is much more of a systematic pattern than I've ever seen before."
McDonnell's popularity has in part insulated him from criticism. A poll conducted June 5-6 by Rasmussen found that 59 percent of Virginians approve of his performance as governor.
In March the Washington Post reported that Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams paid $15,000 for catering at the June 2011 wedding of the governor's daughter. The payment resulted in a credit of $3,500, which was handed over to McDonnell's wife, who three days before the wedding traveled to Florida to speak about a Star Scientific dietary supplement to investors and scientists. The governor hosted a kickoff event at his official residence for Williams' company in August 2011, the same month the businessman gave him a $6,500 Rolex watch, which he failed to disclose, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The cozy relationship included McDonnell borrowing Williams' vacation home in western Virginia and his luxury cars. McDonnell's wife, the Times-Dispatch reported last week, was treated by Williams to a $10,000 Oscar de la Renta suede jacket, two pairs of designer shoes, a Louis Vuitton leather handbag and a designer dress during a spring 2011 trip to New York City.
Petersen says if McDonnell won't return the gifts, he should resign. But the Northern Virginia Democrat isn't so sure that state law should be reformed to compel the disclosure of gifts given to politicians' family members. Virginia Del. Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, is proposing a bill to force the disclosure of gifts valued at over $100 to the family members of politicians.
"I don't think we need new laws," Petersen said, signaling that bipartisan reform of state disclosure laws might not happen.
"Gifts that are given to family members because of their association with you, as far as I'm concerned that's a gift to you," he said. "I don't think we need to spell this out. I think everyone is smart enough and adult enough to figure this out."