McAuliffe taps Maurice Jones for commerce secretary

Correction: This report has been updated. An earlier version reported incorrectly that Maurice Jones had served as deputy chief of staff to then-governor L. Douglas Wilder. Jones held that position under then-governor Mark Warner.


Maurice Jones speaks after Virginia Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, right, introduced him as nominee for secretary of commerce and trade on Jan. 2. (Mark Gormus/AP)

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe on Thursday named a former newspaper publisher and current Obama administration official as his secretary of commerce and trade, a key cabinet post as the state faces federal budget cuts and tries to lure the FBI headquarters to Springfield.

Maurice Jones, who left the Virginian-Pilot in early 2012 to become deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, appeared in Richmond as McAuliffe (D) announced his choice at the offices of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

“Here in Virginia . . . we have weathered the great recession better than our economic competitors, but our economy still faces major headwinds,” said McAuliffe, who made job creation a centerpiece of his campaign. “We have federal budget cuts, we have the effects of sequestration. . . . My top priority as governor will be to grow and diversify our economy, and to attract the best businesses here in Virginia and to keep the best businesses here in Virginia.”

At HUD, Jones oversaw the day-to-day operations of an agency with more than 8,000 employees, according to McAuliffe’s transition team. He previously served as president of Pilot Media and was director of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. Under then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), Jones simultaneously served as deputy chief of staff and commissioner of Virginia’s Department of Social Services.

“I’m humbled by the nomination, and I’m excited and I’m scared all at the same time,” said Jones, a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, who also attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia.

Jones is the second-to-last cabinet pick for McAuliffe, who is expected to name his education secretary on Friday. Jones is one of many appointees, including three holdovers from the administration of outgoing Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), who have worked in state government. Political observers have said that picking experienced Richmond hands would be crucial for McAuliffe, an entrepreneur and former Democratic National Committee chairman who has never held elective office and had scant involvement in state-level politics before his first run for governor in 2009.

Four years ago, McDonnell dropped his first choice for commerce and trade secretary amid complaints from Democrats that the nominee, Robert Sledd, intended to maintain his position on three corporate boards. McDonnell appointed James Cheng instead and made Sledd an unpaid senior economic adviser.

Jones does not serve on any corporate boards, McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said.

All of McAuliffe’s nominations are subject to approval by the state House and Senate, which are expected to take up the matter early in the legislative session that begins Wednesday. McAuliffe will be sworn in Jan. 11.

McAuliffe emphasized the need to expand and diversify the economy throughout his campaign for governor, visiting all 23 of the state’s community colleges to highlight their role in workforce development. He talked about the goal of turning out more graduates in science, technology, engineering, math and health, known collectively as STEM-H.

McAuliffe and other Virginia leaders are eager to lure another big federal employer — the FBI — to Springfield. Maryland is fighting to have the 11,000 jobs in Greenbelt.

“I believe that would be a real project of interest for the new governor, and I hope the new governor and commerce secretary will see that as an opportunity,” said Barry DuVal, president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which represents 15,000 businesses.

DuVal was commerce and trade secretary from 1998 to 2002, under then-Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R), and he also served as mayor of Newport News from 1990 to 1996, when a shrinking Navy cost the Hampton Roads region 40,000 shipbuilding and repair jobs.

“The message I have for Maurice is diversification,” DuVal said. “The diversification strategy is critical over the next four years.”

As Virginia’s economy adjusts to a contraction in federal spending, Jones said he would be able to apply his experiences in the newspaper business, which has endured the “challenges of a recession, but also the demands and challenges of a transformation.”

“Maurice comes to the job with a strong background in business, government administration and policy,” Josh Levi, vice president for policy at the Northern Virginia Technology Council, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to working with Maurice on growing and diversifying Virginia’s economy, especially in cybersecurity, nanotechnology, data analytics and other high-growth technology areas emphasized by Governor-elect McAuliffe.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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