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McDonnell Faces Questions Over Decision To Rent House To Health Commissioner

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Beset by other scandals, McDonnell is now facing questions over his decision to rent one of his homes to his state health commissioner.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Beset by other scandals, McDonnell is now facing questions over his decision to rent one of his homes to his state health commissioner.

In Virginia, Governor Bob McDonnell is under fire again—this time for renting a house to one of his political appointees.

Back in October, state Health Commissioner Karen Remley resigned her position as part of a protest against new construction regulations imposed on abortion clinics. McDonnell appointed a longtime family friend, Dr. Cynthia Romero, to the position.

Then she moved into his Henrico County house and entered into a lease agreement with the governor. George Mason University professor Toni-Michelle Travis says the arrangement is a clear conflict of interest for the governor to rent his house to a commissioner under his supervision.

"I think it's an unprecedented move. I don't think that's generally done by any governor," she says.

But Rich Galen, a spokesman for the governor's private legal team, says the arrangement is not a conflict of interest.

"It helped her. It helped him, and it helped the people of the commonwealth of Virginia," he counters.

Galen says he was told the rent was lower than the mortgage payment, although he could not confirm the amount of the rent or the mortgage payments. As to a defense for charges of conflict of interest, Galen says it's unnecessary.

"It doesn't need a defense. There are a lot of houses for rent in Virginia. The whole point of the exercise if you have a house for rent is to rent it. That's what people do," he says.

News that the governor entered into a lease agreement with a top state official comes at a time when federal and state investigators are looking into gifts the governor and his family received from a wealthy Virginia businessman.

University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Kyle Kondik says the rental agreement between McDonnell and Romero has the appearance of impropriety at a time when that's the last thing the governor needs.

"There may be a good excuse for the governor in this particular instance, but it's easy to be skeptical about it in light of everything else," he says.

A recent poll by Quinnipiac University shows McDonnell's favorability rating has sunk to 36 percent, a new low for the governor.

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