- The Washington Times
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe took a victory lap Wednesday in his final State of the Commonwealth address, looking back at four years of economic growth and looking ahead to a potential future on the national stage, where his name has become part of the 2020 presidential conversation.

Speaking to lawmakers in Richmond, Mr. McAuliffe said Virginia’s economy is stronger than it was when he inherited it four years ago and attributed the “turnaround” to his decision to veto bills 120 bills — in particular “discriminatory and socially divisive” legislative pushed by the right.

“Let me be clear, those bills took Virginia in the wrong direction,” he said. “They attacked women’s rights, equality for LGBT people, and access to the voting booth. They hurt our environment and they made Virginia less safe. I honestly wish that they had never made it to my desk because the passage hurt us, hurt our reputation.”

“I vetoed those bills because, in a new Virginia economy, we are about the business of bringing people together and lifting everyone up, not tearing them apart or dragging them down,” he said.

On his watch Mr. McAuliffe said the state’s unemployment rate fell from 5.4 percent to 3.7 percent, 200,000 jobs were created, unemployment claims are lower than they’ve been in decades and businesses invested $20 billion in the state.

The 60-year-old, longtime confidante of the Clinton family said the state is on a better fiscal footing and that the criminal justice system has been reshaped to save money and make sure people get a second chance.

Mr. McAuliffe said he delivered on his 2013 campaign promises to pass “meaningful gun safety” laws, to be a “brick wall” for women’s reproductive rights and to restore voting rights of felons who served out their sentence, which he described as his “proudest moment.”

“My team has worked with all three branches of government to finalize a process that we have used to restore the rights of more than 173,000 Virginians, more than any governor in the history of the United States of America!” he said.

Afterward, John Whitbeck, head of the Republican Party of Virginia, said Mr. McAuliffe leaves the office the same way he came into it — with “lots of flash and very little substance.”

“Tonight’s speech was clearly the second phase of his 2020 campaign kick-off, designed to show far-left liberal Democrats that he’s one of them,” Mr. Whitbeck said.

Mr. McAuliffe’s term ends Saturday, when Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, is sworn in as Virginia’s 73rd governor.

Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Northam led the Democrats into the fall election, successfully defending the party’s control of the governor’s mansion and the offices of attorney general and lieutenant governor.

The biggest story, though, was how the party slashed the Republican majority in the House of Delegates from 66-34 to 51-49. The result boosted the morale of Democrats across the country who had been hankering for a big victory under President Trump.

Stephen J. Farnsworth, political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, said Mr. McAuliffe faced stiff opposition from the GOP-controlled legislature during his tenure.

McAuliffe’s governorship therefore focused on more administration issues, or areas where there was greater partisan agreement, like economic development,” Mr. Farnsworth said.

“Still a lot of the things McAuliffe did will endear him to Democratic primary voters if he chooses to run for president,” he said. “His decision on felon restoration, response to the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville and the full-throated argument for Medicaid expansion are all catnip for Democratic primary voters.”

Liberal groups also cheered this week when Mr. McAuliffe and Mr. Northam rolled out a series of proposals advocating for universal background checks for gun purchases, abortion protections and a “cap-and-trade” system targeting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

In his address on Wednesday, Mr. McAuliffe paid tribute to the family members of the woman and law enforcement officials who died in the Charlottesville chaos, and it is time to expand health care.

“Listen to the clear message the people of Virginia sent on Election Day,” he said. “Put the politics aside. It’s time to expand Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said Mr. McAuliffe is correct to label himself the most progressive liberal Democrat in the states history — particularly when it comes to guns.

“It is hard to beat [former Gov. Tim] Kaine, but I believe he probably did,” Mr. Van Cleave said, alluding to how Mr. McAuliffe vetoed a number of bills supported by gun-rights activists. “He is proud of every time he stepped on the will of the people to impose his own will.”

Before the speech, Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, said he hopes Mr. McAuliffe runs for president, making the case that he could stick out in what is likely to be a crowded field of anti-Trump Democrats.

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