This morning’s Washington Post has an article, “McAuliffe suddenly seems chummy with Virginia’s GOP lawmakers,” which talks about how McAuliffe’s “bipartisan tone worries Democrats hoping to woo voters by painting Republicans as antagonistic.”
In my chats with Democratic legislators, staffers, etc., I’ve certainly found those “worries” to be the case: concern that McAuliffe’s rhetoric could undercut House and Senate Democrats’ efforts to motivate their voters to turn out in large numbers this November. Of course, the reality is that McAuliffe, as a governor limited to just one term in office, and with his close friend/political ally Hillary Clinton running for president, has a very different set of interests, motivations, political pressures and incentives, etc. than Virginia House and Senate Democrats do.
For starters, there is ZERO chance that in Gov. McAuliffe’s remaining two years, nine months in office, that he will have a Democratic majority in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. To put it another way, there is a 100% chance that for the remainder of his term in office, Gov. McAuliffe will at LEAST be dealing with a large Republican majority in the House of Delegates, and quite possibly a continued Republican majority in the State Senate.
So, McAuliffe may very well see the less-than-ideal choices he faces as: a) try, to whatever extent he can, to work with Republicans and get whatever he can done, even if it means effectively ditching his major priorities (e.g., Medicaid expansion); b) fight Republicans tooth and nail, using those battles to make the case at the polls both in this year’s legislative elections and in the 2017 gubernatorial election, but almost guaranteeing a high level of Republican hostility for the rest of his time in office.
Given those (bad) choices, it appears for now that McAuliffe has firmly selected “a.” And that could be a perfectly reational, albeit not particularly inspirational or motivating, choice. Yet, if you think about the case Virginia House and Senate Democrats have largely made, and probably HAVE to make in 2015 and 2017, it’s very different – maybe even diametrically so – from McAuliffe’s case. The bottom line for General Assembly Dems trying to win back the Senate and gain seats in the House is simple: they need to make the case to voters why Republican legislative majorities are a really bad thing for Virginia (an argument that has the virtue of being true, by the way) and why Democratic majorities would be a much better thing for Virginia (also true).
Yet, simultaneously, the Democratic Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, is arguing that actually, things are going just swell/hunky dory, with his spokesman Brian Coy even going so far as to claim that McAuliffe is “getting everything he’s asking for” from House and Senate Republicans. If that’s true, then why should voters make a big change this November? Uhhhhhh.
Let’s just briefly review whether what Brian Coy claims, that Gov. McAuliffe is “getting everything he’s asking for” from House and Senate Republicans, is even remotely true. You can review Gov. McAuliffe’s 2015 State of the Commonwealth Address here to get a feel for some of his major proposals. Let’s review what McAuliffe asked for and what he actually got from the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
*”…closing the gun show loophole; preventing violent criminals and domestic abusers from obtaining fire arms; revoking concealed carry permits from those who do not meet their legal obligation to pay child support; and curtailing gun trafficking by restoring the one handgun a month law.” Gov. McAuliffe got NONE of that.
*”…we should also establish a bipartisan ethics review commission with real investigative powers to offer guidance on the law and identify and sanction those who violate it.” Gov. McAuliffe most certainly did NOT get that.
*”$100 cap on all gifts the standard for all Virginia public officials.” To the contrary, Tommy Norment, Bill “ALEC” Howell et al actually went BACKWARDS, allowing an unlimited series of $99.99 gifts from lobbyists, corporate executives, etc.
*”I also hope you will pass my proposal to prohibit fundraising activity both in regular and special sessions.” Nope.
*”The Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Virginia and many other states means that decisions about marriage are now left to loving adults instead of their government….This session, we have an opportunity to update the remainder of the Code of Virginia to reflect this historic decision. ” Nope.
*”…we will introduce legislation to create an energy economic development fund to provide Virginia with yet another tool to attract new, large job creating businesses and help existing businesses grow.” Nope
*”As we work to build a new Virginia economy in which every person can get the skills, training, and opportunities they need, we must also ensure that no Virginian goes without access to quality, affordable health care….With one vote this session, we can get health care for 400,000 of our fellow Virginians, create up to 30,000 new jobs and save our current budget $105 million dollars.” Nope.
*”In a new Virginia economy, everyone will receive equal pay for equal work regardless of their gender. Today a woman in Virginia makes just 79 cents for every dollar a man makes. This is unacceptable, and it’s hurting our communities and economy. So this session I am introducing legislation that will increase the penalties for companies that fail to pay every worker equally for the hard work they do.” Nope
In addition, it’s worth noting that McAuliffe ended up vetoing a slew of bills, “including one that would have allowed home-schooled students to play sports on public high school teams, as well as “bills meant to tighten restrictions on voting and loosen them on guns, buck Common Core educational standards, undermine local ‘living wage’ rules, and adjust House and Senate district lines.”
The bottom lines here are crystal clear. First, in terms of policy, Gov. McAuliffe isn’t even close to “getting everything he’s asking for” from a Republican-controlled state legislature. That’s just a laughable claim, even insulting to our intelligence.
Second, in terms of politics, Del. Marcus Simon (and many other General Assembly Dems who agree with Simon, but are not necessarily willing to say so in the newspaper) is absolutely correct that “by [Gov. McAuliffe] emphasizing the areas we agree on, it makes it much more difficult to draw contrasts on some of the areas that we think are very important to Northern Virginia voters.”
We’ll see how it plays out, and also whether McAuliffe switches into a more partisan, “campaign mode” style as the November election draws nearer. But for now, why do I keep hearing echoes of Dick Morris’ “triangulation” strategy from the 1990s, which arguably helped President Clinton politically after the 1994 Republican “revolution,” but certainly did NOT help Congressional Democrats in their efforts to take back the House and Senate (which, I’d note, they didn’t do until the 2006 Democratic “wave” election)? Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose?