Eight things to watch in the McAuliffe administration

Terry McAuliffe gives his gubernatorial inaugural speech. (Virginia General Assembly)
January 11

Gov. Terry McAuliffe was sworn in Saturday as Virginia’s 72nd governor. Here are some things to watch for as the flamboyant former Democratic National Committee chairman, who once wrestled an alligator, enters the august halls of Virginia’s Executive Mansion:

Adult ADHD. Can Virginia hold McAuliffe’s attention for four years? The Energizer Bunny governor has always zipped from one political and business project to another. After the pomp and circumstance dies down, will the Old Dominion get old?

Clinton creep. How much influence, if any, will McAuliffe BFFs Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton have in the state? If the former first lady and secretary of state runs for president in 2016, how much time will McAuliffe devote to governing vs. helping his friend take his swing state?

GreenTech. During the campaign, two federal investigations were examining the electric-car company McAuliffe co-founded. The probes are related to the company’s use of a federal visa program to attract foreign investment. If the feds find wrongdoing, does that extend to McAuliffe? There has been no indication that he is personally under investigation. If that changes, it would be another blow to the state’s reputation given that McAuliffe’s predecessor, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), is on the verge of a federal indictment related to a gifts scandal.

And speaking of ethics, will someone who has been mired in more than his share of business and political controversies be able to champion ethics reform in Richmond? McAuliffe has pledged to hold himself, his family and Cabinet to a standard higher than state law requires: limiting gifts to $100. Is that enough to convey moral authority to a guy once derided (by his then-rival, now public safety secretary-designee Brian Moran) as “booking agent of the Lincoln Bedroom”?

Making friends. McAuliffe is an upbeat backslapper who is counting on his legendary people skills to ease his agenda through the General Assembly. How does that play in Mr. Jefferson’s rather reserved Capitol?

Abortion access. McAuliffe has promised to be a “brick wall” against new limits on the procedure. But how far will he go in trying to roll back some of the restrictions imposed under McDonnell? Abortion rights activists hope — and anti-abortion groups fear — that he will soften the strict building codes imposed on clinics through administrative action. That move could alienate the Republicans he desperately needs to get anything through the GOP-dominated House and a Senate where control is in flux.

Medicaid expansion. House lawmakers are flatly opposed the Democrat’s top legislative goal, which they say will cost Washington money it doesn’t have, with Virginia left picking up a $5 million-a-day tab. McAuliffe hopes delegates from conservative rural districts will be swayed, if not by him then by hospitals in their districts, which stand to lose money if the health-care program for the poor is not extended to more Virginians.

And if he doesn’t get Medicaid expansion, how will McAuliffe pay for his other costly plans, including more spending on K-12 and higher education? McAuliffe counts on billions of dollars in Medicaid from Washington to create health-care jobs, spur other economic growth and thereby bankroll the rest of his agenda.

— Laura Vozzella

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