Home 2015 elections Is Gov. McAuliffe Really “getting everything he’s asking for” from GOP-Controlled Gen....

Is Gov. McAuliffe Really “getting everything he’s asking for” from GOP-Controlled Gen. Assembly?


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?

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    After the debacle in Indiana with its short-lived attempt to give legal status to discrimination against gays and lesbians, Gov. McAuliffe touted Virginia as a place where we protect the rights of those citizens. I don’t believe that McAuliffe got the General Assembly to pass a bill making such discrimination against the law in the state. Yes, McAuliffe issued a directive to that effect for employment in the executive branch, but the state anti-discrimination law still omits sexual orientation.

  • Jarrod Nagurka

    talked about this in a post on Blue Virginia earlier this year titled: “Beyond the Lovefest: What Democrats Could Have Done If We Controlled the General Assembly.” Given the post, I think it’s a great article to look back on. Great post, Lowell!

    Republicans would have you belief that this General Assembly session was one big Lovefest. They even celebrated the fact that we adjourned one day early, as if that fact itself was enough to prove that they should be trusted with governing the Commonwealth. To be sure, the working relationships with Speaker Howell and House leadership are generally civil, far superior to Washington, and a good thing.

    There were some measures about which we can all be proud — passing a budget on time, investing in job creation and workforce development, providing raises to teachers and state employees, educational reform, attacking problems of campus sexual assault. These were enacted by broad bipartisan majorities, and supported by our constituents across the state. And all of these will be used by Republicans as they seek to maintain their majorities in the House and the Senate elections this fall. With the end of the McDonnell ethics trial and no vaginal probes populating late night television, it was a less controversial and more civil session.

    But before we get too gushy about our accomplishments, let’s dig a little deeper.

    First, let’s remember that this is an election year and that the Republicans were smart enough not to push a Tea Party agenda that has taken hold of their party nationally and that has so dominated Virginia’s legislature in recent years. They could avoid this in 2015 because they did their greatest damage in earlier years, whether it was over transvaginal ultrasounds – a term few of us would have uttered in political discourse a mere two years ago, much less debate in a public forum, TRAP regulations, repealing the one-gun-a-month handgun purchase law, allowing citizens to carry  guns into bars, railing against the children of immigrants, trashing reasonable EPA regulations designed to make air cleaner and our planet more secure, making voting more difficult, or bottling up a way to bring our taxpayer dollars back to Virginia to create jobs, help our hospitals, and provide insurance to 400,000 Virginians by embracing Medicaid expansion.

    The Republican leadership had a game-plan from the beginning. It first involved going soft on social wedge issues. For example, the so-called personhood bill, which would have created constitutional rights for unborn fetuses, and sailed out of the House last year, was sent to a subcommittee where it died an unceremonious death.  And Republican bills that would arm teachers and put guns in airports experienced a similar fate. Leadership was even able to derail a darling of a significant segment of the right wing, the proposal to convene a new U.S. constitutional convention, on the House floor without taking an embarrassing vote that would have lead to its defeat.

    The plan also required criticizing the President at every opportunity. The Republicans were anything if not united, especially when it came to the EPA and “war on coal.” Every measure that attempted to poke the President in the eye was embraced unanimously by a party which has a hard time using the word “science” in a sentence.  And that included even those who fancy themselves as moderate, but remain fearful of a primary challenge from the right.

    And finally, the Republican plan sought to downplay and bury Democratic proposals. One need only look at the initiatives Democrats proposed that never got a hearing much beyond small subcommittees which met at times when few citizens could attend, took few recorded votes, and which are controlled by a small number of conservative Republicans, where two or three delegates essentially decide the fate of the legislation. Almost all of the reasonable gun safety bills were consigned to a small subcommittee of the Militia and Police committee, a group largely controlled by the NRA and by its even more conservative cousin, the Virginia Citizen Defense League.

    The bills were unceremoniously killed in one meeting without ever getting to full committee. Even my bill for voluntary background checks, a measure that would have simply allowed a private gunseller at a gun show the right to ask the Virginia State Police to run a background check of an individual before making a sale, ran afoul of the Republican litmus test opposing any gun safety measure.

    The same fate befell the numerous bills designed to take the partisanship out of redistricting, or at least lessen its influence. In this case, it was a subcommittee of the Privileges and Elections committee jettisoning both House AND Senate bills that would have restored the idea that constituents should choose their legislators rather than the other way around.  This same committee, however, found a way to again make it harder to vote absentee.  If you can’t win at the ballot box, just change who can cast votes.

    And when the Republicans had the chance to vote to make nondiscrimination in the workplace part of state law, they flinched rather than embrace equality for all Virginians.

    There is little doubt that Democratic control would have fundamentally changed the budget. For starters, we would not have left money on the table that could have been used to fund core services, particularly education. Medicaid expansion alone would have replaced approximately $105 million in state appropriations for hospitals and other medical care with federal dollars, thereby freeing monies for other core purposes. We would have capped, if not eliminated, the massive taxpayer subsidies flowing to the utilities and coal companies (over $600 million over the last twenty years) through two coal tax credits, which the Commonwealth’s own independent audit committee, JLARC, concluded do not work for their intended purposes. This would have raised at least $20 million this year alone. Having a government that works better and utilizes business principles means gathering those resources available, using them wisely, and not investing in programs that no longer work. Democratic pushing and prodding made the budget better, but this is not the budget we would have passed had we been in charge.

    Democrats would likely have captured more of the cost of government by linking fees to the services being provided for inspections that protect the public. The Republican aversion to anything that raises revenue allows them to starve agencies that serve the public good; the result is that there are fewer dollars for initiatives in core services like education and public safety. And, speaking of education, Democrats would not have supported the undermining of public education through education tax credits. And we would have expanded pre-K to more youngsters throughout the Commonwealth.

    Democratic control would have meant more economic initiatives to get resources into the hands of working people and the middle class. We were happy to support the job creation efforts of the Governor that were embraced by both parties in the House.  But we would have done more; our members supported both the expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a program that Ronald Reagan said was the most effective way to end poverty in America, and an increase in the minimum wage, an initiative that not only would help working families but get more money into circulation, thereby providing a stimulus for growth. These two economic initiatives never got to committee level, much less to the floor of the House.

    To be sure, there were some good things in the budget, particularly in the area of higher education and raises for public employees. But it did not go far enough in meeting the core needs of the Commonwealth in the way a Democratic budget would.

    Finally, there was ethics reform, which Republicans wanted desperately in response to the McDonnell scandal. At the last minute, however, the package began to unwind as the pressure by House Republicans to adjourn early began to take precedence over the deliberative legislative process. In the end, the deliberative process lost, and a bill was forced through at 8:00pm Friday without enough time for careful reflection and amendment.  And we are now seeing that there are problems with the bill, particularly in terms of its enforcement provisions and the total amount of gifts legislators may take. While many of us voted for the bill, a Democratic majority would have created an independent commission and given it some real teeth.

    While we may have operated with more civility and comity in Richmond this year than in Washington, don’t be distracted by the so-called Lovefest; the Democrat vision for the state is fundamentally different from our Republican colleagues. But we will not be able to showcase it until we increase our numbers in the House of Delegates.

    Blue Virginia covered Del. Toscano’s article here: http://www.bluevirginia.us/dia

  • kindler

    …that he would work for a durable Democratic majority in the Commonwealth.  We’re holding you to that promise, governor.  

    And of course, the more Dems in the General Assembly, the easier everything becomes for Terry.  Even if there’s no chance of the House going Dem, a Democratic Senate would help create more leverage once again for the governor’s proposals.