Left flank upset with Va. Gov.-elect McAuliffe over Cabinet appointments


Maurice Jones speaks after Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, right, introduced him as nominee for secretary of commerce and trade at a news conference at the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce in Richmond on Jan. 2. (Mark Gormus/AP)

Some of the activists who helped launch Terry McAuliffe to victory in November sound as though they’re not savoring the big win in the Virginia gubernatorial election as much as they are working through the stages of grief.

“You just have to move on, accept it,” said Katherine Waddell, a Republican who backed McAuliffe (D) largely because of his support for abortion rights. “You believe in the governor and what he said. And you move on.”

Waddell was referring to McAuliffe’s decision to reappoint Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s health and human resources secretary, William Hazel. Some abortion rights activists have bristled over McAuliffe’s choice because Hazel did not object to strict new abortion limits enacted during McDonnell’s term.

Some environmental activists feel similarly jilted because of McAuliffe’s choice for natural resources secretary — former Hampton mayor Molly Joseph Ward. And environmentalists and smart-growth advocates feel a bit burned by McAuliffe’s decision to name Hampton Roads businessman Aubrey Layne as his transportation secretary.

But now that McAuliffe has finished assembling his Cabinet, those groups are looking ahead to the General Assembly session and beyond to try to ensure that the new governor doesn’t compromise on their key issues, as they think he did in choosing his key advisers.

McAuliffe promised during the campaign to govern as a pragmatic dealmaker, someone willing to reach across the aisle in a divided General Assembly to make things happen. For his Cabinet, he picked veterans of Democratic and Republican administrations.

“The governor-elect was very clear from the get-go in terms of what criteria he would apply: find the best people for the job,” spokesman Brian Coy said.

But McAuliffe’s campaign was also fueled by passionate advocates for particular causes. Environmental groups gave $3.8 million to his bid, according to the Virginia Public Access Project — more than double the $1.8 million donated by the real estate and construction industry, with whom they often are at odds.

Abortion rights groups gave $1.8 million, coming in second to environmentalists among single-issue groups.

Waddell, a former state delegate who ran in 2005 as an independent but describes herself as a “pro-choice Republican,” is co-founder of Women’s Strike Force, which supports candidates backing abortion rights. McAuliffe featured her many times during the campaign as a Republican drawn to him because of his stance on the issue. He vowed at the time to be a “brick wall” against what he called the GOP’s “war on women.”

She objected to Hazel’s reappointment because he did not publicly oppose the imposition of strict new building codes on abortion clinics or a bill that, before it was amended, would have required a vaginal ultrasound before an abortion. Waddell and other abortion rights activists said their concern about Hazel is about symbolism, not a fear that he would push abortion restrictions under McAuliffe.

“My problem with his reappointment was, I wanted someone as secretary of health and human resources who was as passionate as the women who worked for him [McAuliffe] and supported him about reproductive health care,” Waddell said. “That obviously is not Dr. Hazel. . . . I was a little worried about that sending the wrong message to the women who supported him.”

Yet Waddell said she understands McAuliffe’s reasoning for keeping Hazel, a widely respected health-policy expert who might be able to persuade some Republicans to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.

“I understand where he’s coming from, too,” she said. “He’s trying to walk that line of getting Medicaid expansion while at the same time letting women know that he himself is the one who’s passionate about women’s reproductive health care.”

Environmentalists do not object to any particular action Ward took as mayor. But they are disappointed that McAuliffe passed up other candidates whose professional background and political sympathies are more closely tied to the green movement.

“There were a number of choices where he could have made more liberal selections,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a University of Mary Washington political scientist.

“It seems to me that McAuliffe was very clear in the campaign that he was going to try to compromise and he’s going to try to make the deal. I think sometimes activists are overly optimistic before an election, and the realities of governing can get in the way of the idealistic vision of some of the people who work hardest in campaigns. It’s a painful reality for Democrats and Republicans alike as divided government requires compromise.”

Layne, a member of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, has worked on several large transportation projects that these advocates oppose, including the building of a 55-mile, $1.4 billion toll road running along U.S. 460 between Petersburg and Suffolk.

The governor has broad power over transportation funding, and environmentalists are concerned that projects be evaluated with their priorities in mind.

The choice of Layne is “not encouraging,” said Chris Miller of the Piedmont Environmental Council, and some supporters have spoken with McAuliffe about their displeasure. The difference, he said, is that the incoming administration has been very receptive to their concerns.

“He is very interested in hearing from all points of view,” Miller said. “The question which nobody knows is where that process will turn out.”

Glen Besa, director of the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter, said he understands McAuliffe’s pragmatic approach. He thinks the governor is wise to appoint middle-of-the-road Cabinet secretaries who won’t turn off the Republicans he’ll need to get anything done. Republicans dominate the House and may take control of the evenly divided Senate after special elections to fill two vacancies.

“Coming from where we were, with a governor and attorney general who denied climate change, we’re optimistic that this governor’s going to allow us to make progress in these areas,” Besa said. “But to make progress, he’s going to have to work with Republicans in the legislature. ”

Some Republicans see McAuliffe’s pragmatic appointments as a positive sign.

“At least he’s gone to people who know what the heck they’re doing, so I have to give him credit,” said state Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Chesterfield). Hazel is one of three holdovers from the McDonnell administration. The others are Finance Secretary Richard D. Brown and Agriculture and Forestry Secretary Todd Haymore.

“He’s gone to people that actually know the issues, know how state government works, and he’s brought them on,” Watkins said. “That goes a long way with me.”

Watkins, a nurseryman, said that colleagues in his industry were especially pleased with Haymore’s reappointment.

“I think Terry McAuliffe wasn’t high on the list for a lot of people in agriculture, but he put his best foot forward there,” Watkins said. “I think that’s an overture in the right direction.”

William Galston, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who now is at the Brookings Institution, said McAuliffe will have to walk a fine line.

“For every deal that he makes with Republicans, he’s probably going to have to balance it with a red meat proposal that will convince the base that he’s doing his best to honor his campaign promises,” Galston said. “I think his strategy at this point is pretty clear; whether the base will let him act on it is an open question.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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