How will Terry McAuliffe’s charm offensive go over with Republicans? Can Bill and Hillary Clinton’s best buddy and the former Democratic National Committee chairman schmooze his way to legislative success with a GOP-dominated assembly?
How will McAuliffe’s GOP charm offensive go over with his liberal base? The longtime political operative promised to assemble a bipartisan Cabinet and govern from the middle. But some activists on the left were jolted by his middle-of-the-road picks. His reappointment of outgoing Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s health secretary prompted the most grumbling. But abortion-rights activists say they’ve been reassured that McAuliffe will stand by his campaign promise to be a “brick wall” against efforts to restrict access to abortion.
Medicaid expansion. Expected to be the session’s legislative marquee issue, it could be a test of support for the federal health-care law known as Obamacare. Democrats and some Senate Republicans will try to make the case that in addition to helping 400,000 uninsured Virginians, expansion would boost the economy and save rural hospitals. Republicans are ready to counter that, given its bungled rollout, less is more when it comes to Obamacare.
Will the Republican Party find its way? The GOP will continue to face internal division between its tea party and establishment wings over social and fiscal issues. There is disagreement over whether and how hard to press for hot-button legislation on issues such as abortion and over the defense of the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. Some conservatives, still steamed at Republicans who went along last year with a transportation bill laden with $1.2 billion a year in new taxes, will try to undo that deal.
Will the Democratic Party find its way? It’s been more than two decades since Virginia’s governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general have all had D’s by their names. Will the party — led by a governor who’s a newbie to elective office — know how to lead?
Ethics reform. How far will the legislature go in sending a message of disapproval to McDonnell and his family, who accepted more than $165,000 in loans and gifts from the CEO of a dietary supplement company?
State finances. How badly has the state’s economy been hit by federal spending cuts, and how much will that effect trickle down into the state revenue streams that fund schools, social programs, law enforcement and other popular state priorities?
Sen. R. Creigh Deeds. The Bath County Democrat suffered a personal tragedy less than two months ago when his grown son stabbed Deeds and fatally shot himself after mental-health authorities said they could not find a psychiatric bed for him. The senator returns to the Capitol on Wednesday determined to fix the systemic flaws that he blames for his son’s death.
— Laura Vozzella