How election affected politics in D.C. region

Robert McCartney
Columnist November 10, 2012

The election is over, so now we look ahead. For the Washington region, the most important consequence, by far, is the possibility of major federal spending cuts starting in January that would force tens of thousands of layoffs in our area.

Of course, that prospect has nothing to do with the results of the election. We’d be worrying about it even if Mitt Romney had won.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

The budget crisis is upon us now because Congress deliberately timed it to come after Tuesday’s voting. We can’t do much except nervously watch the negotiations and lobby local senators and congressmen to cut a deal to minimize the damage.

Are you depressed yet? Me, too. That’s why I’m going to change the subject. I’ll have plenty of time later to agonize over the fiscal cliff and its scary impact on the region.

Instead, let’s look at ways the election affected the political outlook in each of our three major jurisdictions.

Virginia:

After the Democrats ended a three-year losing streak in the Old Dominion with victories in the presidential and U.S. Senate races, attention turns to next year’s campaign to succeed Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The three main declared candidates are Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who will compete for the GOP nomination, and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Looking only at Tuesday’s results, the Republicans would be wise to nominate Bolling, an establishment conservative endorsed by the still-popular McDonnell. Cuccinelli’s tea party radicalism and firebrand positions on social issues are way out of line with the blue electorate that went to the polls last week.

However, Cuccinelli is already a strong favorite to win the nomination. The pick will be made by a party convention, typically dominated by activists who idealize the outspoken attorney general.

Cuccinelli also can argue that he stands a decent chance in the general election, despite Tuesday’s outcome, because the people who turn out in Virginia’s off-year races have recently been considerably more conservative than those who vote in presidential years.

That’s the challenge for McAuliffe, assuming he’s the Democratic nominee. He needs to find a way to persuade liberal-leaning minorities and young people to vote in the gubernatorial race in the same numbers that they voted in 2008 and 2012.

How the D.C. region voted

Look for the Democrats to schedule lots of events with President Obama and Bill Clinton to try to rev up turnout.

Maryland:

What does Gov. Martin O’Malley do for an encore? He led the Democrats to historic victories on ballot questions endorsing same-sex marriage and the Dream Act, which extends in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

The governor must not rest on his laurels. He succeeded Tuesday in ending the statewide argument, finally, over casino gambling. That clears the way to deal with unfinished business, and he knows he’s got plenty.

The state still needs to find money for needed transportation projects. These include widening highways, repairing bridges and building the light-rail Purple Line linking Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The governor could push through an increase in the gasoline tax or sales tax to pay for these investments. Or he could copy Virginia by launching public-private partnerships to do the job.

O’Malley also must address what he says is an obligation in the environmentally friendly state to help reduce greenhouse gases. That means reviving his plan for offshore wind turbines, which failed in the General Assembly this year, or finding a way to promote solar power or other alternative fuels.

Finally, now that Prince George’s County is going to get a shiny new casino, how about finding the dough to give it the long-promised new hospital as well?

District of Columbia:

For the second election in a row, there was welcome evidence of a strong voter backlash against shoddy ethics. The D.C. Council is close to acquiring a critical mass of members willing to adopt forceful reforms to clean up sleazy campaign finance practices and otherwise discourage corruption.

In the contest for an at-large council seat, independent newcomer David Grosso (I) toppled well-known incumbent Michael A. Brown (I).

Grosso campaigned on the need for clean government, accountability and transparency. Brown was hampered by personal financial problems and mysterious missing campaign funds.

Grosso’s election was reminiscent of that of Kenyan McDuffie (D), who won the Ward 5 council seat in June after a similar campaign emphasizing integrity and a fresh start.

Some of Grosso’s proposals, such as for public financing of elections, deserve consideration but are probably too far-reaching to be approved.

Still, his election ought to guarantee at least the passage of other obvious reforms. One is stripping away the council’s power to approve or reject any city contract worth $1 million or more, a practice that invites abuse.

For previous Robert McCartney columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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