Ken Cuccinelli II and Terry McAuliffe debated strikingly different positions on transportation, health care and other policies, but the two Virginia gubernatorial candidates also spent much of their airtime on a radio show Friday attacking each other’s ethics.
Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general and Republican nominee , and McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee, appeared separately on “Virginia Conversations” on Virginia Public Radio with host May-Lily Lee.
True to recent form, Cuccinelli focused on federal investigations related to McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive venture and Clinton-era fundraising scandals, while McAuliffe attacked Cuccinelli for initially failing to disclose thousands of dollars in gifts from Star Scientific chief executive Jonnie Williams Sr., the same political donor who provided gifts and loans to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his family.
Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis also appeared briefly and criticized both major party candidates.
On health care, McAuliffe said he would expand Medicaid coverage to approximately 400,000 Virginians as part of the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act. Under Obamacare, the federal government has pledged to pick up states’ initial cost for expanding the shared program covering low-income families, the elderly and others.
“Remember, it’s our money,” McAuliffe said, adding that expansion would bring $21 billion in federal funds that would “turbocharge” the state’s economy. “Why would we ship our money to Washington and not want to get that money back?”
McAuliffe said he would not sign a budget from the General Assembly unless such a provision were included, and that any possible costs to Virginia are also balanced by the creation of perhaps 33,000 new health-care-related jobs.
“It is fiscally irresponsible for Ken Cuccinelli — and, I think, socially irresponsible, morally irresponsible — not to take that money and help so many Virginia residents,” McAuliffe said. He dismissed the argument that the federal government, which is heavily in debt, could leave states holding the bag with a large new social commitment. If the federal government ceased to pay for the program, Virginia could later back out, he said.
“You have to call the General Assembly back in and say, ‘The federal government broke their part of the promise. We have to end ours as well.’ If it happens, it happens,” he said.
But Cuccinelli said McAuliffe has ignored the $200 million that Virginians will pay in taxes to support the expansion when the plan is fully phased in, and he said the program is already under strain because of a shortage of participating providers.
Cuccinelli said it was extremely unlikely that the state would be able to go back on expansion if the federal government reduced its support and that kinks in the law’s implementation suggest more serious problems to come.
“I would note that our federal government is bankrupt,” Cuccinelli said. “This is a health-care fraud disaster in the making. This is a real train wreck.”
Asked about education, McAuliffe said he wanted to boost teacher pay, increase support for the state’s network of community colleges, and do away with Standards of Learning tests in their present form.
“The idea of this high-stakes multiple-choice test at the end of the year is for some teachers to teach to tests,” McAuliffe said. “It’s having our children learn memorization — which there’s nothing wrong with that — but we’ve got to have our children think creatively and cognitively.”
He also talked about raising Virginia teacher pay because he said it ranks last among 50 states.
The former Democratic National Committee chairman also talked about his interest in finding bipartisan solutions to the state’s problems, citing as an example his support for a major overhaul of transportation funding passed by the General Assembly this year and signed by McDonnell. He expressed his support for the Silver Line that will expand Metrorail service into Loudoun County and reiterated his desire to widen Route 58 to four lanes across the state.
“Ken Cuccinelli doesn’t believe in transportation funding,” McAuliffe said. He also took passing shots at Cuccinelli for questioning human agency in climate change, opposition to gay rights, and pushing a “social ideological agenda” that McAuliffe said included support for a “personhood bill to outlaw most forms of contraception.”
Cuccinelli acknowledged disagreeing over the transportation bill, which he said was not good policy, but also talked about how his office helped to make sure it passed constitutional muster. He took a jab at McAuliffe, saying he doubted whether McAuliffe had read the bill and his claim at having helped to pass it.
Lee pressed McAuliffe on why he has not released his tax returns as Cuccinelli has.
“I’ve gone beyond what’s required of me,” McAuliffe said, turning his answer back to Cuccinelli for taking gifts from Star Scientific’s chief executive while the company had a tax dispute before the state. He also said Cuccinelli’s release of tax returns was a “gimmick” and accused him of amending his gifts declaration forms only after “things got hot.” He reiterated his proposal for an ethics commission and a ban on state elected officials accepting gifts of more $100.
Cuccinelli, pressed to explain why he has not paid back Williams for approximately $18,000 in gifts, took the position that he complied with Virginia law by declaring them.
“I think that’s what really matters in this case,” Cuccinelli said. He also said his case was different from McDonnell’s.
“I didn’t get any money,” Cuccinelli said. “I didn’t get any loans. I didn’t get any stuff. I didn’t get watches and clothes. That’s what they returned. It’s because that’s what they got. I’m not in that category. In fact, the investigation into the governor’s state investigation was begun by me into his gifts situation.”
Cuccinelli also said he took the initiative in reporting his mistakes and contrasted his lapse with McAuliffe’s.
“There’s an awful lot of hiding going on, all while there’s an SEC investigation of GreenTech, his company, while he was chairman,” Cuccinelli said. “People who go to the voting booth on Nov. 5 in just over 70 days are going to have one candidate, Terry McAuliffe, under federal investigation, and that’ s never happened before.”
Said Cuccinelli: “This is the guy who sold off the Lincoln bedroom, who sold seats on Air Force One during the Clinton administration, and gave over a $1 million gift loan to the president of the United States and his wife so they could buy a house in New York and she could run for the U.S. Senate. It’s really an amazing comparison.”
McAuliffe and Cuccinelli taped their remarks prior to the show, which aired today.