Wednesday Q+A With Terry McAuliffe

The political operative turned governor talks economics, redistricting, and the presidency.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, photographed in National Journal's offices.
Chet Susslin
July 11, 2017, 8 p.m.

Vir­gin­ia Gov. Terry McAul­iffe’s first and fi­nal term ends next year. As chair of the Na­tion­al Gov­ernors As­so­ci­ation and a former Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee head, he is vo­cal on na­tion­al polit­ics and policy. McAul­iffe talked with Zach C. Co­hen at Na­tion­al Journ­al’s of­fices about bal­an­cing fisc­al and so­cial policy, the “cor­ros­ive” ef­fect of ger­ry­man­der­ing, and the “fun” he’s had as gov­ernor. Tran­script ed­ited for length.

As you wrap up, what do you con­sider to be your biggest leg­acy over the last four years?

Clearly eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment. Un­em­ploy­ment rate has gone from 5.4 to 3.8, the low­est in nine years. We’re now the No. 1 state in Amer­ica for cy­ber­se­cur­ity. My chal­lenge now is we have so many high-pay­ing jobs that we’re not filling.

I’ve prob­ably been the most pro­gress­ive gov­ernor in Vir­gin­ia his­tory. I was one of the first statewide in the South to come out for mar­riage equal­ity. I told the [Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation] they can go jump off a cliff. I told wo­men I’d be a brick wall to pro­tect their rights. I’ve re­stored more felon rights than any gov­ernor.

You’ve ve­toed more le­gis­la­tion than any oth­er Vir­gin­ia gov­ernor. Is there any­thing you re­gret not be­ing able to do?

I ve­toed 120 bills. I was nev­er over­rid­den once. Sev­enty-eight per­cent of my le­gis­la­tion got passed with a very Re­pub­lic­an le­gis­lature, and to be hon­est with you, we work very closely to­geth­er on eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment. I got everything I wanted. A spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure—not for want of try­ing—has been [not passing] Medi­caid ex­pan­sion.

As chair of the NGA, you’ve talked to oth­er gov­ernors about fed­er­al health care policy. Do they see their role in this de­bate dif­fer­ently from oth­er fed­er­al de­bates?

Oh, yeah. You’ve seen such a co­ali­tion of Demo­crat and Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernors come to­geth­er. Those 31 ex­pan­sion states and D.C.—it’s a lot of money for them. And then us non-ex­pan­sion states—we’re per­petu­ally go­ing to be locked out of this fund­ing go­ing for­ward.

Would you run for a second term if you could?

Listen, I’m fine with four years. But of course if there was an op­por­tun­ity to run again, of course you would. I’ve prob­ably had more fun than any­one’s ever en­titled to have. I’m sure you’ve seen the Twit­ter; I was out on the moon bounce the oth­er day, ra­cing kids. I jumped out of a plane at 10,000 feet in­to a Wounded War­ri­or con­cert. I’m the first gov­ernor to go up in an un­manned drone; I flew it with a laptop. My se­cur­ity team is at the point where [they say], “Well, let him do what he wants. We can’t stop him if we wanted to.” Three-hun­dred new winer­ies, 206 craft brew­er­ies—I’m try­ing to do my best to vis­it them all.

Demo­crats last month nom­in­ated Lt. Gov. Ral­ph Northam to re­place you. What do you an­ti­cip­ate his gov­ernor­ship would look like?

He was my lieu­ten­ant gov­ernor, [and] God knows I kept get­ting sued—thank good­ness I had At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Mark Her­ring—but we were a team, the three of us. And these ac­com­plish­ments are not Terry McAul­iffe’s ac­com­plish­ments. They’re our ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ac­com­plish­ments. That’s what Ral­ph’s go­ing to run on, a con­tinu­ation of those policies.

[GOP nom­in­ee] Ed [Gillespie] has been a good friend. You’d prob­ably kill him by writ­ing that.

You served at the same time as na­tion­al party chairs.

Ed and I did a lot of TV to­geth­er. We come from the same place. Polit­ics isn’t per­son­al. You can dis­agree; it doesn’t mean you’re a bad per­son. And un­for­tu­nately what’s happened in Amer­ic­an polit­ics today is every­body takes it so mean-spir­ited.

What are you go­ing to be do­ing after your term?

The tax­pay­ers are pay­ing me, so I’m really fo­cused on the next six months. And then I’m really lean­ing in on the [Na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic Re­dis­trict­ing Com­mit­tee]. I view this ger­ry­man­der­ing as so cor­ros­ive. These lines are drawn such that nobody will work with each oth­er any­more. And if I had my druth­ers, I’d have an in­de­pend­ent, non­par­tis­an com­mis­sion in all 50 states.

You haven’t ruled out run­ning for pres­id­ent in 2020. Do you think there is an ap­pet­ite for some­body with your re­cord?

I get asked this a lot. I have no idea what I’m do­ing in the fu­ture. I love be­ing gov­ernor. It’s the one job—hon­est—I’ve al­ways wanted.

Take me out of it, be­cause this is not something I’m think­ing about: We need a stand­ard-bear­er of our party who fo­cuses ob­sess­ively on eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment and job growth, and con­nects that to a so­cially pro­gress­ive agenda. But talk­ing about a so­cially pro­gress­ive agenda without eco­nom­ic de­vel­op­ment to me is a mean­ing­less con­ver­sa­tion.

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