RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After a month of public relations disasters, Gov. Bob McDonnell faced live radio questions about the Confederacy, felons' rights and classroom instruction on condom use.
But the rookie Republican governor also used his sometimes contentious monthly appearance Tuesday on Washington's WTOP radio to strike back at late-night and cable television comics and critics.
McDonnell eluded a direct answer when asked if he thought public schools should teach effective condom use to combat high AIDS and HIV rates in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
Some Virginia schools do not allow condoms to be brought for purposes of demonstrating their use to students, the radio show's host noted.
"Do you think that AIDS educators should come in to public schools in Virginia and demonstrate how to properly use a condom," McDonnell was asked.
"I think there would be a lot of parents in those communities that would probably object to that, who would say, 'This is my responsibility to teach my children about these issues.' And there's obviously the question of what's age-appropriate — certainly not elementary school," said McDonnell, an unflinching social conservative throughout his political career.
Abstinence, he said, is the best solution, and he said safe sex information has to be available for those who don't choose celibacy. He said public health and education officials would have to find the answers, but never said whether he felt condom use should be demonstrated in public classrooms.
He defended his administration against media reports that initially said he would force felons who have served their sentences to write detailed essays to him explaining why he should restore their civil rights, including the right to vote.
The reports surfaced about the same time he was forced to amend and apologize for a decree he issued designating April as Confederate History Month, yet initially omitting any mention of the evils of slavery.
Earlier, McDonnell had been criticized for omitting partners in same-sex relationships from an executive order banning discrimination within the state work force. The state also came in for national criticism when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a Republican, advised presidents of state-supported Virginia colleges that they could not consider gays as part of a protected class of people shielded from employment bias. McDonnell was forced to issue an executive directive modifying Cuccinelli's guidance.
Together, the events sent the administration reeling under withering ridicule from cable television news and talk shows and barbs from Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."
"All of these late-night comedians really don't represent Virginians," McDonnell said.
The governor was also lambasted by civil liberties and minority advocacy groups who likened his early felons' rights reinstatement policy proposal to the Jim Crow-era literacy tests that deterred blacks from voting.
The tone of Tuesday's radio program was sometimes sharp. One caller who identified herself as Eileen bluntly rebuked McDonnell for the Confederacy commemoration, saying "we look like a very intolerant state, and I think it will hurt business and I think it will hurt tourism."
McDonnell noted that her observation came the day defense and government contracting giant Northrop Grumman announced the move of its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles to Washington's Virginia suburbs. And he blamed media misinformation for what he said was unjust criticism of his administration's proposals for restoring felons' rights.
"Some of these things that have been said are way, way over the top, they're false, they're not civil and everybody knows it," McDonnell said.
He also said criticism of his felons' rights initiatives by two Democratic African-American legislators, Del. Charnielle Herring of Alexandria and Sen. Yvonne B. Miller of Norfolk, was ill-founded.
"They're both absolutely flat wrong and those comments are just not appropriate. They're both great legislators, but they're absolutely wrong," he said.
McDonnell said the press reports, based on more than 230 letters sent months ago to felons who had requested rights restoration, didn't take into account changes that were made since then to his plans for streamlining the process of reinstating civil rights.
Virginia and Kentucky are the only states that permanently deny felons civil rights, such as voting, jury service or holding public office. In Virginia, only the governor can restore those rights.
McDonnell's predecessor, Timothy M. Kaine, now the Democratic National Committee chairman, restored rights to more than 4,400 felons, the most of any Virginia governor.
McDonnell said his goal was to reduce to 90 days a bureaucratic tangle that often dragged along for months or even years for felons seeking their rights back.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.