Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpSilver-tongued Gov. Terry McAuliffe blew into town June 18 to help the Arlington Committee of 100 celebrate its 60th anniversary.

The crowd of 150-plus for the fancier-than-usual banquet at Washington Golf and Country Club rightfully congratulated itself on the civility of its even-handed monthly debates. McAuliffe, however, spoke with more energy than any guest over the past six decades.

“The Chinese are coming,” he shouted as he described his freshly inked $2 billion deal for Chinese investment in a Chesterfield County paper plant using corn stalks. “It was on-again-off-again round the clock,” the governor said, but it will create 2,000 jobs. The Chinese recently lifted their seven-year-old ban on U.S. poultry imports, and McAuliffe was there in Norfolk, he said, to help load the first boxcar of chicken.

The master fundraiser and investor spoke infectiously. He reviewed signing “within the first half-hour” on the job the executive order banning employee discrimination based on sexual orientation. He traveled to Annapolis to end Virginia’s four-year absence from the Chesapeake Bay cleanup agreement, adding a provision on climate change. “And the sky didn’t fall,” he said.

The governor noted the transfer of Natural Bridge from a private owner to a state park. He described his recent tour of Werowocomoco, site of Chief Powhatan’s headquarters recently identified 12 miles from historic Jamestown based on clues found on a map in Spain.

As prominent Democrat, McAuliffe has no trouble getting an audience at the White House, where he’s been lobbying against defense cuts. The proposal to decommission the aircraft carrier George Washington would cost 30,000 jobs, he said. “Fine but only if you diversify the economy.”

Pivoting to education, he touted progress reforming the Standards of Learning, killing five tests because “children were becoming experts at bubble tests rather than critical reasoning skills,” he said. The governor would love to circulate a coloring book with STEM on the cover, citing 40,000 information technologies jobs that currently go unfilled.

On transportation, McAuliffe said it is “unacceptable” to sit in traffic for three hours (seconded). “We need bus, rail to get people out of their cars,” he said, as well as long-term high-speed rail from Richmond to Washington. The state, he said, will no longer tolerate “political roads” in home districts of key lawmakers.

His most prophetic remarks dealt with the legislature’s blocking of his plan to expand Medicaid. Noting that the state already forfeited $838 million in federal money, he reiterated that the expansion would give health insurance to 400,000 Virginians. Warning of Virginia’s need to compete with the 27 other states adopting the plan, McAuliffe warned of hospital shutdowns, recalling patients who looked him in the eye and said, “If you don’t do it, I’ll be dead.”

“This battle is far from over,” he vowed. (Two days later McAuliffe exercised his line-item veto on the Republican budget provisions blocking Medicaid expansion.)

McAuliffe praised the Committee of 100 as a model for “legislators on how they can disagree without people flying off the deep end and achieve a simple compromise that leaves all feeling good.”

As current and past committee presidents spoke live (and via a new video), they stressed their use of the “building blocks of democracy,” in contrast with the “poisoned, polarized atmosphere across the river.”

McAuliffe promised “to be back in 60 years to help you celebrate again.”