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Vote McAuliffe, Northam, Herring

SoVaNow.com / October 30, 2013
There’s no doubt this year’s race for Governor features two of the stranger creatures ever to seek high office in Virginia, the state that flatters itself as Mother of Presidents (provided you stopped counting a century ago). The mano a mano between huckster extraordinaire Terry McAuliffe, representing the Democrats, and culture war spear carrier Ken Cuccinelli, bearing the hopes of Republicans, has ordinary voters reaching for the Advil and the TV remote in a desperate attempt to avoid the pain of watching either of these two supremely unlikeable candidates in action.

Sorry, but this posture of forced detachment, however justified, cannot stand. Like ‘em or loathe ‘em, either McAuliffe or Cuccinelli will be Virginia’s next governor. (The third candidate on the ballot, libertarian Robert Sarvis, exists mostly to soak up votes that otherwise would have been gone down in posterity as write-in protest ballots. The biggest loser from his campaign is Mickey Mouse). Among the many curiosities this race has inspired, one is the specter of newspaper editorial boards — GOP-leaning, for the most part — refusing to endorse either candidate. (The Richmond Time-Dispatch serves as the most prominent example). C’mon, fellas. You of all people should know this sort of thing just isn’t done. In the same way that the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good, the abysmal shouldn’t get in the way of the meh. Virginians are resigned to the fact that they’re going to choose a sub-optimal Governor-elect next Tuesday. But a mediocrity beats the heck out of an atrocity.

Do we really need to further beat around the bush here? In Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia has a candidate who is distinguished by his insufferable arrogance, ethical shoddiness, Tea Party pigheadedness, gay-bashing intolerance and affinity for just about every known form of right-wing virulence known to man. (New strains are being discovered by the day). If elected governor, Cuccinelli could be expected to tend diligently to his number one constituency, the nightly viewership of Fox News, even as he did his best to turn Virginia into a partisan free-fire zone. Just think of the opportunities: More (failed) lawsuits against the federal government. A legal witch-hunt or two, perhaps against the next climate scientist who has the temerity to speak up about his findings (Cuccinelli’s record includes his disgraceful would-be investigation of a U.Va. climatologist prominent in the global warming debate. Thankfully, a federal judge cut that nonsense short.) Whether he’s covering up the breast of the Roman goddess Virtus, whose truculent figure graces the state seal, or backing a bill to force women seeking an abortion to undergo invasive procedures (who needs doctors?), Ken Cuccinelli always finds a way to set people’s hair — his and yours — on fire.

The classic newspaper editorial endorsement (read ‘em while they’re still warm!) seeks to strike a balance between the fuzzy and the furrowed, the hopeful expression of why one candidate is worthy of your support and the chin-stroking concern regarding all the ways that the other is not. You’ll find no such oatmeal here. We are perfectly happy to offer the straight-up, no-nonsense, bullet-point case for going to the polls Tuesday to elect Terry McAuliffe as your next governor:

1 – He’s not Ken Cuccinelli.

2 – McAuliffe may be a hack, but when did this disqualify candidates for public office?

3 – McAuliffe is dead-on about the two issues of greatest immediate concern to Southside: uranium mining and the expansion of the state’s Medicaid program.

Let’s take the reasons to vote for McAuliffe in reverse order. McAuliffe has made clear his wariness of uranium mining, in contrast to Cuccinelli, who said on a campaign swing through Danville that “I think we need to proceed with regulations that will ultimately lead to uranium mining and milling” (Danville Register & Bee, Aug. 2). This statement was accompanied by the usual safety-first/strike-a-balance word salad that politicians sometimes employ to disguise their true sentiments on the issue, but when Ken Cuccinelli says he wants to proceed in a direction that leads to uranium mining and milling, I’m inclined to take him at his word.

McAuliffe, by contrast, reportedly has told leaders in the fight against the Coles Hill project in Pittsylvania County that lifting Virginia’s ban on uranium mining would be a “horrible idea.” (This according to Andrew Lester, edirector of the Roanoke River Basin Association, following a meeting with McAuliffe in the spring. The exchange was reported by the Associated Press.) Because this is Terry McAuliffe, chair of the money-grubbing wing of the Democratic Party, naturally there’s an inclination to not entirely trust everything he says. I get that. But the odds of a double-cross by McAuliffe on the mining issue are extraordinarily low, I suspect, for two reasons: one, given his tetchy reputation, McAuliffe couldn’t afford to pull such a duplicitous stunt, and two, he would find near-zero support in his own party for any effort to crack open Virginia for the Canada gang that wants to gouge yellowcake from Southside.

Outside of Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, there’s no prominent statewide Democrat who openly favors lifting Virginia’s mining ban. Combine that with the allegiance of Republicans opposed to mining, including Southside’s GOP delegation, and you’ve got a strong bulwark in place to protect the region. Cuccinelli is enough a zealot that he’d probably take on the mining fight regardless, but McAuliffe? Nah. It’s hard to see him having the fire even if he has the desire, which is doubtful in any event.

On the matter of Medicaid, the contrast between candidates could not be more stark: Cuccinelli is an ardent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, neé Obamacare, including its provisions to expand Medicaid to low-income citizens. In contrast, McAuliffe has vowed as governor to achieve the Medicaid expansion, which is mostly paid for by the federal government (100 percent of the cost for the first three years, 90 percent after that) but requires the assent of states to implement.

Southside Virginia is just the sort of place that would benefit tremendously from the expansion of Medicaid. Such an act would extend health insurance to thousands of low-income Southside families, many who now depend on the hospital emergency room for medical care. Children in low- and middle-income households typically receive insurance through Virginia’s FAMIS program (an offshoot of Medicaid), but adults typically aren’t eligible given Virginia’s miserly income eligibility limits, some of the lowest in the U.S. (Childless, non-disabled, working-age adults in Virginia are not eligible for Medicaid, period.) The proposed Obamacare expansion opens up the program to adults and families making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. For a family of three, that works out to $26,400 a year — less than what a single mother working full-time at Wal-Mart or McDonalds likely earns. People with such jobs usually don’t receive health insurance through their employers, either. Conservatives are fond of ripping the Medicaid expansion as a disincentive to work. You know what else poses a big disincentive? Jobs that offer low pay and lousy benefits. At least with the Medicaid expansion, adults holding down bottom-rung employment would have assurances of receiving basic health care.

Because Southside is what it is, a Wal-Mart job is not to be sniffed at around these parts. For many folks it’s a steady and stable paycheck. But people have needs — health care being high on the list — and the Medicaid expansion represents a reasonable way to bring some stability to their lives. Bottom line, partisans can argue about the merits of Obamacare till the cows come home, but the Medicaid expansion money has been appropriated and will be spent — if not in Virginia, then somewhere else. It is foolish not to take the feds up on the offer. The Medicaid expansion also promises to create jobs throughout Virginia’s health care sector, including here in Southside, not a small consideration in a region where double-digit jobless rates are commonplace.

Pragmatic leaders are willing to set aside their personal objections for the greater good of the citizenry, which is why so many conservative Republican governors — from Jan Brewer in Arizona to Rick Scott in Florida to John Kasich in Ohio — have pushed to expand Medicaid in their states. Is there a realistic chance that Ken Cuccinelli would follow their sensible lead if elected governor of Virginia? No.

Pragmatism is a much-praised virtue in Richmond, supposedly the principle that elevates governance of the Old Dominion above the grubby norm. Usually in Virginia pragmatism is interpreted as the desire to promote pro-business policies. There’s nothing wrong with that; perhaps Virginia’s most popular and effective governor of recent vintage was Mark Warner, whose business-friendly bona fides are rarely questioned. With our current governor, Bob McDonnell, however, the mentality has been flipped on its head. Throughout the Star Scientific scandal that has ruined his governorship, McDonnell has said over and over that he’s done nothing for Star that he wouldn’t do for any other Virginia company. It’s a telling defense. Among other things, it highlights the dire need for ethics reform in Virginia — the next great pragmatic cause at the Capital, in the wake of McDonnell’s success overcoming the last great pragmatic challenge: shepherding a much-needed transportation bill through the General Assembly. (Predictably, Cuccinelli tried to sabotage the tax-and-spend road package, leaving him with no stake in McDonnell’s greatest success.)

Ethics reform would hardly seem to be a cause to be taken up by the likes of Terry McAuliffe, but he is a Richmond outsider, after all, with long experience in the dark art of money and politics. McAuliffe has proposed banning gifts over $100 and creating a bipartisan ethics commission to keep tabs on Capital Square miscreants. Of course, a crowning irony of this contest has been the revelation of Cuccinelli’s own ethical missteps — from his acceptance of gifts from Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, to the work by the Attorney General’s office (which Cucineeli heads) to deprive Southwest Virginia landowners of potential income in their fierce dispute with coal companies over natural gas extraction rights. Cuccinelli entered this race with the clear opportunity to establish himself as the principled candidate, albeit one that not everyone would like, in contrast to the ethically-challenged, lighter-than-air McAuliffe. In a telling sign of his own incompetence, Cuccinelli has managed to fumble even this basic political task.

Adding to the parade of oddities in this race, McAuliffe has been more effective — by far — in drawing support from across the aisle. Endorsements by numerous Republicans and conservatives, from former Appomattox delegate Watt Abbitt to GOP strategist Boyd Marcus, add credibility to McAuliffe’s pledge to promote bipartisan cooperation in Richmond. This theme strikes a nerve. No reasonable person can look at what’s happening in Washington and like what he sees: shutdowns, threatened defaults, seemingly one manufactured crisis after another. Asked whether he would have voted for the budget deal to reopen the federal government, Ken Cuccinelli told an interviewer that he wasn’t sure. It’s no wonder that sensible conservatives are deserting his campaign. Cuccinelli is a Tea Party extremist who has the misfortune to run at a time when the wages of its extremism are visible for all to see.

Virginians can do their part to end this destructive nonsense by voting for the Democratic ticket in next Tuesday’s election. That this newspaper should endorse the Democratic slate will come as no surprise to regular readers; what may be more surprising is the number of voters who may finally find themselves in agreement. One of America’s truest conservatives, Barry Goldwater, famously urged Americans to do what they knew in their hearts to be right. A similar moment has arrived today for Virginians of all ideological stripes. The time to strike a blow against the radicalization of America’s politics is here, now, in Virginia. Please be sure to go to the polls next Tuesday, Nov. 5, and vote.

***

A few further words about the down ballot races:

For Lieutenant Governor, we heartily endorse the Democratic candidate, Norfolk state Sen. Ralph Northam. In his tenure at the General Assembly, Northam has established himself as moderate, sure-footed leader who is able to work effectively with colleagues on both sides of the aisle. We especially appreciate his early, vocal and measured opposition to uranium mining in Southside Virginia. An Army veteran and pediatric neurosurgeon, Northam especially has a great deal to contribute to the debate over health care in Virginia.

His opponent, Chesapeake minister E.W. Jackson, may go down in the history books as the most ludicrous, least qualified candidate for statewide office in modern Virginia history. His nomination, engineered by a handful of far-right partisans at a lightly-attended convention, should be a source of embarrassment for Republicans. Jackson’s sole calling card is his proclivity for outrageousness, as evidence by his descriptions of gay people as “frankly very sick people”, Planned Parenthood as “far more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was,” and President Obama as a closet Muslim. It’s up to the voters now to reject this vicious ignorance for what it is. If the public opinion polls are to be believed, Virginians stand ready to complete the task.

• In the Attorney’s General race, the choice is state Sen. Mark Herring, a Fairfax Democrat with a solid record of legislative accomplishment. As AG, Herring would bring a welcome focus on consumer protection issues, an oft-overlooked but essential duty of the AG’s office, which essentially serves as the state’s law firm. After the sundry fishing expeditions undertaken by our current headline-seeking AG, Mr. Cuccinelli, it would be a relief to see a disciplined, judicious successor take his place.

The Republican candidate is state Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisburg. Obenshain is the son of the late Richard Obenshain, considered by many to be a guiding light of the conservative movement in Virginia, but it is hard to imagine that the ideology in the elder Obenshain’s day could have been as intrusive and punitive as the modern variety. Oddly for a party that styles itself as the defenders of liberty, Republicans are behind some of the most aggressively offensive pieces of legislation to come down the pike in years — including Obenshain’s bill, from 2009, requiring women to report miscarriages to police within 24 hours of the event or face the possibility of jail time. Obenshain later withdrew the legislation in the face of widespread protest, acknowledging it was overly broad, but he continues to support similar, if less radical laws such as the requirement that women seeking abortions first undergo mandatory ultrasounds. On the campaign trail, Obenshain has pledged to uphold Cuccinelli’s work as attorney general, the last thing Virginia needs. We unreservedly support the election of the Democrat in the race, Mark Herring, to further send the message that this mean-spirited brand of politics must come to an end.







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