TERRY MCAULIFFE, who takes office Saturday as Virginia’s 72nd governor, has managed his two-month transition whirlwind with hardly a misstep. A Democrat who campaigned on a promise to govern as a mainstream, bipartisan executive, he has assembled a Cabinet that fits that bill. The governor-elect’s choices have been applauded by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle .
In fact, Mr. McAuliffe has made a virtue of necessity. True, for the first time in more than 40 years, Democrats control all five statewide elective offices in Virginia — the two U.S. Senate seats plus those of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. But the GOP maintains control of the House of Delegates and, depending on the outcome of two special elections to fill state Senate seats, it may also retain control of the upper chamber. If Mr. McAuliffe is to achieve anything in the single four-year term that Virginia’s constitution allows the governor, he will have to reach across the partisan chasm.
That is precisely what he has done in assembling a Cabinet of competent, non-ideological pros, including three holdovers from the administration of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R): Finance Secretary Ric Brown (who also held the job under Mr. McDonnell’s Democratic predecessor, now-Sen. Timothy M. Kaine); Secretary of Health and Human Resources William A. Hazel Jr.; and Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore.
Few of Mr. McAuliffe’s other key Cabinet appointments are known as especially partisan. His nominee as Secretary of Commerce and Trade, Maurice Jones, is a former newspaper publisher who has been deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the last two years. His surprise pick for education secretary, Anne Holton, is married to Mr. Kaine; however, she is also the daughter of former governor A. Linwood Holton Jr., Virginia’s first Republican chief executive since Reconstruction. As a former domestic relations judge and advocate for foster children, she is well respected in Richmond.
Of all the governor-elect’s top appointments, just one, Paul Reagan, his choice for chief of staff, could be considered clearly partisan. But Mr. Reagan was also a top aide to former governor Mark R. Warner and former senator James Webb, a pair of Democrats notable for their bipartisan chops.
The selections, replete with Richmond insiders and technocrats, blunt the usual critique of Mr. McAuliffe as a partisan Beltway insider. They buy him credibility and, just possibly, the benefit of a cordial hearing from Republican lawmakers.
Still, it will be tough sailing for Mr. McAuliffe, particularly on his central goal of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. Despite his outreach, he is faced with Republican lawmakers whose hostility to bipartisanship is so overt that they tried to sneak through a radical gerrymander last year on a day when a Democratic senator was out of town, thereby tilting the evenly split state Senate momentarily to the GOP’s advantage.
The effort failed, but it highlighted what Mr. McAuliffe has shown he understands: Divided government and the ultimate goal of economic prosperity will require constant compromise, both symbolic and substantive.