RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe isn’t one for self-doubt. The flamboyant former Washington political insider turned 72nd governor of Virginia said he’s had a near perfect run so far as he completes his first year in office.
“I got 95 percent of the things I promised I would get done,” McAuliffe, a Democrat, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press at the Executive Mansion.
And on what he said is his ultimate priority — spurring economic growth and diversifying Virginia’s economy — McAuliffe touts a record he said far surpasses his predecessors.
McAuliffe said under his watch more than $5 billion in new investment has come to Virginia, more than double what other governors have achieved in their first year in office. It’s an accomplishment he shares with audiences at most public events.
“Not that anyone is counting,” McAuliffe will add, or some variation of, whenever he mentions it.
On one day last week, McAuliffe’s took a helicopter ride to the Hampton Roads area where he helped announce a new $100 million investment by the Japanese firm Canon in a printer-cartridge manufacturing plant in Newport News. At the event he met with the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. to discuss new potential deals before returning to Richmond to meet with the Cuban ambassador to talk trade and then hosted a party at the Executive Mansion for the state’s tourism industry officials. McAuliffe said such days are typical.
“This is what I do day in and day out. I’m very single-mindedly focused on that issue,” said McAuliffe. “Economic development from morning to night.”
McAuliffe, who once ran the Democratic National Committee and is close friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, clearly enjoys his current gig. He keeps the mood light at public appearances with a steady stream of self-depreciating jokes and over-the-top compliments, often calling each official he meets as the “best” or the “greatest.” When touring a Pre-K classroom in Norfolk recently, McAuliffe group-hugged a set of 4-year-olds he had just met and later showed them that he had two different colored eyes, allowing each child a close-up look.
Joe Adachi, the CEO of Canon’s U.S. subsidiary, said McAuliffe’s exuberant personality was useful during a recent trade mission to Japan where McAuliffe helped convince Adachi’s boss to increase investment in Virginia.
“(McAuliffe) showed great enthusiasm,” Adachi said.
McAuliffe said such successes have been common under his watch thanks to his vast network of business and political contacts. The governor added that “it’s probably perfect timing” he be governor at a time when Virginia’s economy is suffering from a slowdown in federal spending, particularly in defense spending.
But McAuliffe’s critics say the job of being governor involves more than just being the state’s chief salesman.
“Most of us can multitask,” said Republican House Speaker William J. Howell, who said McAuliffe and his staff have shown little more than a passing interest in working with the GOP-controlled General Assembly on meatier topics like improving public education or reforming the state’s pension system. “I don’t know what else he’s interested in.”
McAuliffe scoffed at those criticisms and notes that he’s also fulfilled several campaign promises on social issues, like protecting abortion rights or supporting gay-friendly policies. He also shrugged off the failure of his top legislative effort last year: expanding Medicaid eligibility for as many as 400,000 low-income Virginians, a key component of the Affordable Care Act that most Republican state lawmakers oppose.
The governor said no one could have foreseen the abrupt resignation of former Democratic state Sen. Phil Puckett last summer, which flipped control of the state Senate to Republicans and help doom any chances of expanding Medicaid in the Legislature or through unilateral action by the governor.
Though McAuliffe last year repeatedly promised to expand Medicaid, he said he doesn’t view his inability to do so as a shortcoming.
“If I had not worked and had not tried, it would have been a failure,” said McAuliffe. “I did everything humanly possible, they were never going to pass it.”
McAuliffe has included Medicaid expansion as well as a series of gun control measures as part of his legislative agenda for the 2015 session, which begins Wednesday. Both issues will meet stiff opposition by Republicans in the General Assembly.
Asked what kind of role he would play should Hillary Clinton announce plans to run for president, McAuliffe said that he would try and help her win Virginia but play a limited role.
“No offense, it’s not like I have a lot of free time,” said McAuliffe. “I’m governor, I got a state to run.”
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