McAuliffe’s Failed Governorship Results in Record 91 Vetoes
Governor McAuliffe has officially now vetoed more legislation than any Governor in Virginia history. Today he issued his 91st veto on a bill that would have protected clergy and bona-fide religious institutions from civil liability if they were unwilling to solemnize a same-sex marriage, breaking Jim Gilmore’s 89 vote record. Since the 91st veto, he has since issued 4 more, bringing the current total to 95 and counting.
The Washington Post claims that this is indicative of “the ideological gap between the Democratic chief executive and the Republican-controlled legislature.”
The Democratic Party of Virginia, in an email, claims that this is evidence that the Governor has “fought relentlessly on behalf of individuals whose rights radicals in the General Assembly have sought to take away.”
The Post is right, but hey, there’s always been an ideological gap between governors and legislators of different parties. DPVA’s take is Washington-style turd polishing, but hey, they have to do that. The Governor pays the bills.
The reality of breaking this veto record is much more fundamental than that. It is the capstone to a failed governorship.
95 vetoes isn’t a milestone that anybody should be proud of. What it shows is a Chief Executive who is incapable of convincing the legislature to do what he wants them to do. 95 vetoes come from a Governor who was unable to come up with any common ground with the General Assembly, and who was unable to work any deals to stop bad legislation. Most of those 95 vetoes were a godsend of political fodder flowing straight from his veto pen into GOP fundraising appeals and eventually into Republican campaign accounts. 95 vetoes shows a Governor who was disconnected and impotent, unwilling to do the hard work to build the relationships he needed to get things done. In short, 95 vetoes isn’t evidence of the Governor’s willingness to fight for individuals rights, it’s evidence of his inability to govern.
To be fair, there are always going to be vetoes in a divided government – it’s inevitable. But when you’re talking dozens of vetoes every session for an entire four year term, that’s not just divided government. That’s political dysfunction. Sometimes political dysfunction isn’t avoidable. There is no evidence, however, that the political dysfunction brought on by Governor McAuliffe was anything but avoidable.
As noted, 95 vetoes breaks the record set by Jim Gilmore’s governorship. Yet if you compare the two terms, you’ll see a marked difference in the reasons for the high numbers of vetoes. On one side, you’ve got McAuliffe’s flaws as a chief executive, and on the other, Jim Gilmore’s power politics. Governor Gilmore came into office with a sweep of the top three statewide offices, with a majority in the State Senate and a potential 49+1 vote Republican-leaning parity in the House of Delegates. With 49 GOPers and one independent who leaned GOP, for the first time in Virginia history the General Assembly might have been under GOP control, or at least some kind of power sharing arrangement that would give Republicans more control. Instead, the Democrats went to court, and were able to successfully block the seating of three Republican House members who won special elections from being seated early with the rest of the House. That, coupled with some heavy handed parliamentary tactics, sealed the Democrats’ majority, but it also resulted in two years of hard-knuckled brawling between Governor Gilmore and Speaker Thomas Moss. And, two years later, cost them the General Assembly.
None of that is happening now. Republicans have enjoyed solid majorities in both the House and Senate since 2015, and Speaker Howell and Majority Leader Norment have served under multiple Democratic governors without the kind of acrimony we’ve witnessed since 2013. For most of Governor McAuliffe’s time in office, he’s had Republicans in control fair and square, with no controversy other than the perennial complaints and lawsuits over gerrymandering. There was never a chance that he would have had a unified Democratic General Assembly anyway, because the House has been overwhelmingly Republican since 2011 and there was never any danger this was going to change. McAuliffe knew – or, at least he should have known – that he’d be dealing with divided government for most of his time in office, and that he’d have to be willing to be the kind of jobs focused, bipartisan dealmaker he claimed to be during the 2013 gubernatorial election if he wanted any hope of getting anything done.
Did he ever do that? Nope.
This is a governor who was notoriously hands off when it came to the legislature. We’d all heard the anecdotes told by members of the House and Senate off-the-record, but there was no dearth of on-the-record statements, either. Senate Majority Leader Kirk Cox told the Post that McAuliffe was rarely seen during session, and when key bills come up, the McAuliffe Administration was silent. This was the same governor who blew up the traditional process for nominating Supreme Court judges in Virginia because he didn’t have the courtesy to pick up the phone and call Speaker Howell or Majority Leader Norment before he made an announcement. The same Governor who spent every ounce of his political capital tilting at the windmill of Medicaid expansion in Virginia – which, given the intent of the current White House and Congress to cut off the money for the expansion, would have blown a massive hole in Virginia’s budget. And even though McAuliffe was successful in delivering Virginia for Hillary Clinton, that victory soon turned to ashes in his mouth as Clinton lost the electoral college in three states she thought were a slam dunk. If Clinton has been elected President, McAuliffe could have taken a cabinet appointment and left with his reputation largely intact. But without that win, what can he really say he accomplished? Taking credit for jobs numbers he had nothing to do with?
This is a Governor with zero accomplishments, zero legislative victories, and a string of electoral defeats that have followed him throughout his time in the Governor’s Mansion. Medicaid wasn’t expanded in Virginia. Hillary Clinton isn’t President. Judge Marum Roush is back in private practice. The General Assembly is more Republican now than when he took office. And the GOP is poised to sweep all three statewide offices this year, following their victories in 2016 which gave Republicans control of the White House and Congress, along with the assurance of a conservative-leaning Supreme Court. Governor McAuliffe will be remembered, if he’s remembered at all, as “Governor No.” 95 vetoes is the equivalent of 20-134, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders’ dubious record for the worst season in baseball history.
No matter how well you spin it, 95 vetoes is not a victory. It’s evidence of a failed Governor who was singularly unable to live up to the promises he made when he ran, and who didn’t particularly care. When Governor McAuliffe leaves office next January, he will have walked away without a single signature achievement. This was, at best, a wasted four years for the Democratic party and at worst a brutal demonstration of what can happen when you put somebody with no experience into the biggest job in Virginia and expect them to succeed.