In week’s political tumult, Terry McAuliffe is long-term loser and Md. status quo is winner

Columnist June 11, 2014

A pair of political earthquakes rocked Virginia this week, while seismograph needles in Maryland stood still as can be.

Our region has produced so much political news in recent days that it’s hard to keep track. Here’s a handy list of winners and losers to help make sense of it all.

Robert McCartney is The Post’s senior regional correspondent, covering politics and policy in the greater Washington, D.C area. View Archive

Loser: Terry McAuliffe (long term). Virginia’s governor sustained a critical reversal when his fellow Democrats lost control of the state Senate with the surprise resignation of Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell).

Now the GOP will probably control both chambers of the General Assembly at least until after the legislative elections in November 2015.

So much for hopes for a progressive agenda, highlighted by Medicaid expansion, following the Democrats’ sweep of the three top state offices in November. McAuliffe will have to rely on executive orders and the bully pulpit to accomplish anything significant.

“It’s very bad news — bad karma can ruin a governorship,” University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato said. “He’s got 31 / 2years to turn it around, but it was a real setback.”

McAuliffe also was beaten at his own game. He is supposed to be the master of horse-trading and shrewd maneuvers.

But it was the GOP that dangled the comfy state tobacco commission job that helped lure Puckett into stepping down.

The ensuing uproar forced Puckett to give up taking the tobacco position. He claimed the job wasn’t a factor in his resignation, but the timing of events plainly suggests otherwise.

Winner: McAuliffe (short term). Curiously, there’s an immediate silver lining for the governor. Until the Puckett news broke Sunday, the legislature was deadlocked over broadening Medicaid, the federal health insurance program for the poor.

The standoff was preventing approval of a budget and pushing state government toward a possible July 1 shutdown.

Now the gridlock is broken. The legislature is set to approve a budget. Financial turmoil is averted.

In addition, a perfect excuse has fallen in the Democrats’ lap to explain why McAuliffe failed to broaden Medicaid as promised. It was all the fault of the conniving GOP and that quitter, that renegade, that back stabber Phillip Puckett.

In fact, the Republican-dominated House of Delegates wasn’t going to approve Medicaid expansion, anyway. McAuliffe should say a quiet prayer of thanks to Puckett for giving him an easy out.

Loser: Undocumented immigrants. Prospects for immigration reform on Capitol Hill died Tuesday when a tea party candidate upset House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) in the Republican primary.

The challenger, economics professor Dave Brat, successfully painted Cantor as supposedly soft on immigration for daring to suggest the slightest concession to benevolence.

Cantor had said maybe we could grant in-state college tuition to some students whose parents brought them into the country illegally — before the students themselves were old enough to have a say in the matter.

The lesson is clear to Republicans: Take the hardest possible line on immigration, or risk losing your job.

Winner: Face time with your member of Congress. Cantor’s other sin was spending too little time meeting with constituents back home.

“There was this sense among a number of Republicans in central Virginia that Cantor had become too aloof,” Sabato said. “It was one more populist revolt against the corporate, Brooks Brothers style of Republicanism.”

Expect more invitations to town halls with your Washington representatives.

Winner: Status quo in Maryland. A Washington Post poll released Tuesday showed Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown leading his rivals for the gubernatorial nomination by 2 to 1 ahead of the June 24 Democratic primary.

That suggests not much is going to change in Maryland. Brown is the hand-picked successor of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D). The state is so blue that the Democratic nominee is highly likely to win in November.

Loser: Clear thinking among Maryland Democrats. The poll also disclosed the seemingly irreconcilable fact that Maryland Democrats want their next governor to be different from O’Malley.

Nearly six out of 10 would like the next governor to “mainly lead the state in a new direction.”

Now, Brown cannot be separated from O’Malley. He boasts constantly of the accomplishments of “the O’Malley-Brown administration.”

If you’re a Democrat who wants a genuine departure, then you can veer left with Del. Heather Mizeur (Montgomery). Or you can edge right with Attorney General Doug Gansler.

But if you want something different from the patron, then don’t back the protege.

I discuss local issues Friday at 8:50 a.m. on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

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