The trio of candidates running for governor of Virginia represent the three most flawed politicians to lead the commonwealth’s general election ballot in a lifetime.
The campaign has been worse, mired in negativity and mud-slinging. Still, one of these three men will be elected governor on Nov. 5, and Virginians would do well to make sure that person is Terry McAuliffe. He is more capable of governing effectively, and is less likely to embarrass Virginia, than either of the other candidates.
It’s not an easy call. The Democratic nominee has never held elected office.
Like his opponents, he supports drilling for oil and gas off Virginia’s coast, a position that needlessly risks two of this region’s biggest economic engines: the military and tourism.
He is saddled with baggage after decades as a fundraiser in national party politics, as a businessman whose political and financial interests frequently intertwine and as someone whose connections to powerful figures have proven as much a liability as an asset.
Only a Gov. McAuliffe, though, would be held accountable in Richmond.
The Republican nominee, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, would have no counterbalance to his extreme agenda. The Libertarian, Robert Sarvis, would have no easy way to get things done.
McAuliffe likes to say he’s willing to work with anybody, and the heavy Republican composition of Virginia’s General Assembly would demand as much.
It’s one of the reasons he has drawn the backing of so many independent-minded voters, current and former Republicans and the state’s largest trade group, the Virginia Association of Realtors.
McAuliffe has spent four years – following a failed bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2009 – building knowledge of state government.
But his decision to bolster his entrepreneurial credentials by purchasing a stake in an electric vehicle manufacturer, GreenTech Automotive, has proven problematic.
The company still hasn’t fulfilled his promises to build a major plant in Mississippi, produce thousands of vehicles or employ hundreds of people. Federal authorities are looking into whether company officials promised a financial return for foreign investors who put up big money in exchange for a visa.
Despite his loquacity, McAuliffe has demonstrated qualities that indicate he could serve Virginia well as chief executive.
He has run other more successful business ventures and political operations, including stabilizing the Democratic National Committee’s financial condition and helping to set the party on a path to electoral victory.
He has waged a campaign that revolves largely around sensible business-friendly policies: Harnessing the community college system to bolster workforce development; prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace; expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act; and supporting education reform that emphasizes critical thinking.
He would provide a firewall against some of the more extreme social policy proposals to surface in the General Assembly, and he has pledged to avoid the type of scandal plaguing Gov. Bob McDonnell by banning himself or his family from receiving any gift worth more than $100.
Sarvis, like McAuliffe, favors marriage equality. He has pledged to pursue repeal of Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But Sarvis’s fiscal policy views would be damaging.
He supports privatizing the state’s liquor stores on principle, even if it means a loss in state revenue. He prefers funding road projects through tolls and greater local control, rather than using statewide sales taxes and a centralized agency in Richmond.
Economic considerations wouldn’t compel him to fight the loss of federal military facilities. Additionally, he has no allies in the legislature, a major practical constraint given the executive and legislative branches are co-equal in Virginia’s government.
A spokesman for Cuccinelli’s campaign rejected an invitation to talk with this paper’s Editorial Board, making it impossible to know whether his views have evolved since 2009.
There is no indication they have. As attorney general, he has validated the conclusion this board reached four years ago: “Cuccinelli’s election would bring embarrassment to Virginia, instability to the state’s law firm and untold harm to the long list of people who don’t fit his personal definition of morality.”
Since then, he unsuccessfully sought a subpoena against one of his own clients, the University of Virginia. He lashed out at the U.S. Department of Education after it fined Virginia Tech for its initial response to the mass shooting on campus in 2007. He furnished lapel pins that concealed the breast of Virtus on the commonwealth’s seal. He advised universities against instituting anti-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation but was overridden by Gov. McDonnell.
More recently, Cuccinelli threatened to withhold legal representation from regulators if they didn’t impose punitive architectural standards on abortion clinics. He tried to derail bipartisan legislative support for a vital transportation-funding package this year.
Further eroding his credibility is his connection to two ongoing controversies. The first involves his office’s advice to an energy company fighting Virginia landowners over coalbed methane gas. The company donated more than $100,000 to Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign in the past year.
The other is Cuccinelli’s claims that he “forgot” to promptly disclose a vacation and a Thanksgiving dinner from the same businessman whose generosity toward the governor has triggered a federal investigation.
Cuccinelli’s failure in high-profile legal battles against the federal government have succeeded mostly in giving him a platform to gain an audience with tea party followers, to peddle his book and to magnify partisan division and distrust.
In November, Virginia’s voters should free him to pursue such goals full-time. They can do that by voting for McAuliffe.