Newly elected executives make all sorts of pledges after winning their seats – some more outlandish than others.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe just knew he could cajole the General Assembly to expand Medicaid. On Monday, he proposed it yet again, even as he begins cleaning out his desk. His advocacy before the Republican-controlled legislature has gone nowhere during his four years in office.
Bob McDonnell had plenty of ideas about transportation. That didn’t turn out well for those who use the Downtown or Midtown tunnels. And the state wasted hundreds of millions on a new U.S. 460, for which no construction ever began.
So it’s smart to look critically at the promises now emanating from Gov.-elect Ralph Northam. Yep, we’ve seen such platitudes before.
Still, Northam’s modest proposals – described in a wire story The Virginian-Pilot ran over the weekend – are both reasonable and achievable. The Democrat said he wants to work in a bipartisan way, without beating the other side’s brains out. The pediatric neurologist repeated his themes of “healing” and “civility.”
The current lieutenant governor said he wouldn’t try to lure Republicans in the legislature to his Cabinet. Unless recounts in the House change the totals, both chambers will be held narrowly by the GOP in January. A few departures to Northam’s administration, then, would turn control over to the Democrats.
Northam has earned the benefit of the doubt. His legislative career is marked by moderation, a focus away from social issues, and working to bolster funding for things like public education.
The former Norfolk state senator was the driving force behind banning smoking in restaurants. As the only physician in the Senate, he spoke with authority about trying to head off forcing women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion. It undercut the posturing by sponsors of the move.
Frankly, it would be nice to tone down the rhetoric emanating from the governor’s office. Though I agreed with much of McAuliffe’s agenda, including near-automatic restoration of voting rights to released felons, he relished the political fight just a little too much. His bruising style antagonized opponents and didn’t help in the long run.
You wondered if he was more concerned about rising atop a soapbox than actually passing legislation. And there was never a TV camera, tape recorder or reporter’s notebook that McAuliffe ignored.
Northam is more low-key. I bet he would be just as happy with a week devoted to the nuts-and-bolts of policy as he would in dealing with the news media.
He also said he won’t force Republicans to accept a broad expansion of Medicaid. Republicans have detested the notion, a hardhearted stance. They’re more angry that the expansion was part of “Obamacare” than the fact it would provide health care for hundreds of thousands of Virginians.
Northam, instead, has talked to lawmakers in both parties about overhauling the state’s Medicaid system to expand health care, while better defining eligibility. That would help control costs.
This tack will probably anger progressives, who wish he’d be more forceful in trying to push a more-liberal agenda. They’ll say because he won the contest against Ed Gillespie handily, Northam should use the office to push the state farther left.
That’s not him.
“Ralph has a sense of fairness, so he would try to figure out a way to include people,” Vivian Paige, a local Democrat and political observer, told me Monday. Northam moved to the left during the gubernatorial primary, she said, then returned to the center for the general election.
It’s the spot he’s most comfortable in. In a political climate that’s often polarized, his stance should be a good one for Virginians.