Virginia's Terry McAuliffe: The New Political Model

Virginia's Terry McAuliffe: The New Political Model
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In a year when much of the public wants the non-politician, there is a new model for successful office-holding -- the outgoing and ever-confident Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

If the electorate is looking for people who aren't career office-holders, then McAuliffe, who had never been in public office previously, is the example.

What voters in Virginia got when they elected McAuliffe in 2013, however, was a vastly experienced politician, yet a first-time office-holder. McAuliffe had built a career mixing politics and business, starting with wrestling an alligator to raise money and continuing to the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee and chairman of Hillary Clinton's campaign for president in 2008.

Along the way, he made friends, and a few enemies, too, but mostly friends who admired the drive and constant and colorful upbeat of McAuliffe's winning ways. As an insider, but outside political office, he managed to learn more about governing than most who had been longtime elected officials.

When McAuliffe decided to enter electoral politics for himself, running for Virginia's Democratic nomination for governor in 2009, he was largely unknown in the state but still placed second in a three-man race. The winner, a state senator, lost badly to the Republican that November. (The Republican, Robert McDonnell, is now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep from going to jail after being convicted on corruption charges.)

If McAuliffe then waited more than one day to start running again, no one noticed, because he soon was traveling over the state, learning and taking ubiquitous notes, to become unopposed as the Democratic nominee for governor in 2013 and going on to defeat a strong Republican opponent, a sitting attorney general, to occupy the historic governor's mansion in Richmond.

There were still a few, even then, who thought McAuliffe might not be all that serious about governing, but when the hard work began, he quickly proved that as a first-time office-holder, known for political friendships and little-known as an executive, he would be his own force.

McAuliffe courted and charmed all, especially the controlling Republican opposition in the state legislature, the General Assembly. But it was executive strengths and detailed knowledge of and preparation on issues, not just courtship, that enabled him to succeed where others had failed.

If today's public wants one thing out of its political leaders - jobs - McAuliffe has made job creation his urgent overriding goal, and he has succeeded in bringing new plants and industry into the state, coming from as far away as China. He has traveled extensively throughout the world to sell Virginia's goods and get investments. On occasion, a promised project might not pan out, to the delight of some opponents, but McAuliffe simply worked harder and achieved a job production batting average that all-stars would envy.

Then, to underpin both bringing jobs to Virginia and creating the workforce to fill those jobs well into the future, McAuliffe this year
succeeded in pushing through a reluctant legislature a broad plan to raise educational levels in Virginia, particularly including training and producing a workforce through the state's strong but
little-noticed community college system.

Unable to get an obstinate Republican legislature to reconsider its vehement opposition to President Obama's health care program - Virginia being one of the few states to ignore its uninsured population and leaving a pile of federal money on the table - McAuliffe can now look to his promising education and workforce programs as an enduring legacy.

Jobs and workforce have been the hallmark of McAuliffe's administration, now half-way through its four-year term. (Virginia is the only remaining state barring reelection after only one term.) But he has also strengthened Virginia's previously-loose ethics laws, notably compared to the former Republican governor awaiting prison, and has succeeded in a long list of other accomplishments.

All of which is to say that no, Terry McAuliffe isn't this year's candidate for President, even at a time when much of the public is looking for a leader with different appeal. He is strongly behind Hillary Clinton and believes in her experience.

What his success in Virginia does say, however, is that in the future, voters throughout the country might well look beyond the tried-and-true career office-holder for new leadership. Even Hillary Clinton didn't hold elective office until after her First Lady years when she became senator from New York.

There are in Washington and throughout the statehouses numerous
experts at governance - yes, including lobbyists - who might fit the McAuliffe model, although few if any have his drive and electability.

One previous example of this model, from the Republican party, might well be Haley Barbour. He, like McAuliffe, was a national party chairman who had built a successful Washington lobbying business.

Barbour then went back to his native Mississippi to become a popular governor, quickly restoring Mississippi after the devastating Hurricane Katrina of 2005.

Curiously, one candidate to succeed McAuliffe as governor of Virginia is Republican Ed Gillespie, a Washington lobbyist and political operative who has not held elective office, although only narrowly defeated by incumbent Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) when Warner was reelected in 2014.

But even if Gillespie appears to fit the model, McAuliffe will prefer as his successor another model, his lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, a country doctor who still goes home to treat his patients.

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