If Terry McAuliffe were smart...A provocative thought I know, but as the state heads into the biggest Constitutional crisis since Massive resistance, I can’t help but wonder what would be the politically smart way for McAuliffe to extricate himself from a crisis he created. I have been following Virginia politics for 20 years now and I can't think of a comparable example of a Governor painting himself into a corner like this.
First, I don’t think he knows what he is doing. In an effort to energize his voters he promised that he would demand that the Legislature massively expand the popular welfare program, Medicaid. Liberals will always come out and vote for you if you promise to increase welfare, and in a tight race McAuliffe needed every liberal he could find. Terry was so adamant about the need to expand Medicaid that he said he would not sign a budget without it.
One of the knocks against candidate McAuliffe was that he had no experience in state Government. If candidate McAuliffe understood the way Virginia's budget process worked he never would have made such a promise, but his ego will be bruised if he backs down, so now like Thelma and Louise headed for the cliff its full speed ahead! A candidate should never make a promise he can't possibly keep. And if he does he should back away gracefully, and quickly.
Second Mistake. Not only will he not sign the budget, he promises to keep the Government open. Kind of hard to keep the government running without a budget. To do that he will have to appropriate money, which, he has no Constitutional authority to do.
Third mistake. McAuliffe underestimated the opposition of the Republican controlled House of Delegates. In my opinion the House is right to oppose such an idea, which in the long run would put the state budget in a perilous situation, and force major tax increases down the road. But it's not just the conservative base that is implacably opposed to expansion, it is also the public in general.
Simply put, there is no reason for the House to approve such an idea. It is not popular in their districts and it is not good policy.
What should Terry do to get himself out of this mess?
First, sign a budget without Medicaid in it, but demand a special session to debate and vote on the Senate proposal. Then at the special session he can trot out every sad case in the state. Bring out a parade of sick Virginians that might possibly benefit from expansion. The GOP would then be on the defensive. It would no longer be about numbers, which favors the GOP, but it would become emotional, and feature real cases of Virginians in need. Emotion might trump fiscal sanity.
Now as a Republican, I give this good advice because I know Terry won’t do it. Instead he will go down a perilous road that offers no good options for a Governor.
To rule by executive order can’t work. Even if the public in general is ok with a Hugo Chavez like dictatorship, it still can’t work. Making the state run on a day-to-day basis with executive orders and emergency measures will just upset lots of people. Eventually, some court is going to rule he is out of bounds, and the public will turn on Terry. In addition, such a strategy will create bad blood on both sides of the aisle once the Constitution is restored, which will make it virtually impossible to govern for the next three years.
My guess is that Terry tries to single handily run the State. He will get his consigliere Herring to ok his decrees, and do what Lord Dunmore, the last Royal Governor did, rule the state by fiat.
We shall see.