If he proved naysayers wrong and could get his agenda through a divided General Assembly, a governor McAuliffe (D) would expand Medicaid, increase teachers’ salaries, overhaul school standardized tests, invest in green technology, expand Metro’s Silver Line to Loudoun County, roll back restrictions on abortion clinics and expand gay rights.
A governor Cuccinelli (R) would cut taxes by $1.4 billion a year, create more charter schools, block Medicaid expansion, oppose the Silver Line in Loudoun, keep intact abortion rules as well as laws against gay marriage, and permit, if Washington would go along, new coal-fired power plants and offshore drilling.
To accomplish either one of those starkly different agendas, the new governor will have to overcome his political reputation as well as the increasingly partisan contours of Richmond’s landscape. Some political observers are skeptical.
“With these guys, what you see is what you get,” said Jennifer Duffy, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “They’re not going to be different people as governor than they were as candidates.
“You can make an effort to grow into a role,” Duffy said. “But if everybody around you is so used to the person you are, they may not let you. Democrats in the legislature are pretty much going to be hostile to anything Cuccinelli would propose. And I think Republicans in the legislature are going be very wary of anything that McAuliffe would promise.”
Virginia’s 72nd governor also will face challenges all his own, depending on whether he’s the national Democratic operative with scant connection to Richmond or the conservative Republican with a long but sometimes difficult history here.
McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman, has never held elective office or been involved in public policy on the state level. Forced to duck in March when asked to name the positions in the governor’s cabinet, McAuliffe would have to get up to speed on a sprawling bureaucracy and build relationships with legislators from scratch. That would be tough in the GOP-dominated House, a likely firewall to his top priority: expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
McAuliffe counts on the expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state health-care program for the needy, to bankroll his broader agenda. The federal government would provide $2 billion a year initially, and McAuliffe also factors in tax revenue generated by the thousands of health-care jobs he says would be created. If he couldn’t persuade the House to go along — and opposition in that chamber is fierce — money for teachers’ raises and all the rest would not be there.