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McAuliffe brings energy, economic focus to Dem race

Terry McAuliffe likes to say that he knows what it takes to create jobs. He started young, creating his first job for himself at age 14.
“I’d been carrying golf bags for five hours, and I was walking home, I was depressed. I figured I’d thrown my life away. I’d only made five dollars,” said McAuliffe, who later on became a success in the business world and then tried his hand at politics, running the Democratic National Committee and now throwing his hat into the ring for the soon-to-be-open Virginia governor job.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Back to when McAuliffe was 14, and he was thinking that if he wanted to go to college, it was going to be because he figured out a way to make the money that he would be able to afford it.

“So I saw a guy out paving his driveway, and I said, You know what, I can do that,” McAuliffe told an audience at Cally’s in Downtown Harrisonburg Thursday morning. “I went home, typed up a letter, and had 14 jobs my first day. I’d take buckets of tar around in my little red wagon. Then I conned my mother into driving me around to do it. And then actually went out and got a truck. Didn’t have my license yet, but that’s OK. That was a little technicality I didn’t need to worry about. So I could buy the tar wholesale, and spent years tarring driveways.”

Let’s come back to the present day, to Cally’s, and to what McAuliffe was there for. Namely, to talk up his formal entree into the Democratic Party gubernatorial race. The cynics, and they are legion, Republicans and Democrats alike, are dismissing McAuliffe as a political opportunist who views the Virginia governor’s job as a steppingstone to national office. My first instinct in terms of a reaction to that is to repackage insight from college-basketball commentator Dan Bonner when I talked with Dan a few years ago about the open UVa. basketball-coach job. You’re going to want somebody, Bonner told me, who’s young and looks at the UVa. job as his chance to prove himself to get himself in a position for another big-time college job or the NBA. Because if he’s thinking that way, he’s going to work his butt off to prove that he’s worth a look down the road.

So that’s my perspective going into the early-morning meetup with McAuliffe. Give ‘im a shot. He did a good job running the DNC, he’s been successful in business, and if he does the same thing in Virginia as governor, what does it matter what his motives are?

And then I’m confronted with – hey, there’s more to this guy than meets the eye, because this guy clearly knows what he’s talking about, and I’m saying that as someone whose job for the past 14 years has been knowing Virginia politics inside and out.

First and foremost, the McAuliffe agenda is economic development. “We’ve got to grow the economy. And the only way to do that is to create jobs. And that is the essence of my campaign,” said McAuliffe, who has lived in Virginia for 20 years, dating back, as he told the group at Cally’s, to the beginning of Doug Wilder’s term as governor in Richmond. “You can’t keep cutting, and you can’t raise taxes. So we’ve got to get a new economic engine going here in Virginia, and we’ve got to get a plan going. Where do we want to be 10, 20, 30 years from today in our economic strategy? We can’t just think, We’ve got to get through this current crisis,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe likes to talk about “big ideas.” His biggest of big ideas is to set Virginia on the course of being able to land a megadeal along the lines of the Toyota project that was hotly debated in Augusta County a couple of years back. “Over the course of the last 10 years, what we call megaprojects, big deals, Virginia has not won one single big deal really in the last 10 to 20 years,” McAuliffe said. “They have gone to other states. They have gone to Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida. We haven’t won these deals, and we need to make sure to win these deals going forward. The BMW deal that went to South Carolina was a $5 billion deal. That’s 5,000 jobs. The ThyssenKrupp deal that went to Alabama, that was a $4 billion deal, 4,000 jobs, average pay $56,000 a year. We didn’t even bid on those deals. We didn’t bid on the Kia deal, we didn’t bid on the Toyota deal, we didn’t bid on the International Paper deal. Why?”

In large part because, from McAuliffe’s vantagepoint, Virginia tries to do economic development on the cheap, investing only a pittance in the Governor’s Opportunity Fund that is supposed to be something of a kitty for economic-development purposes, and perhaps more importantly outright avoiding making the tough decisions on the development of the public infrastructure. “We need to think long-term here in Virginia, and we have continually been stymied here in growth on transportation,” McAuliffe said. “I’ll be honest with you. We need to have an honest discussion on revenue. Any candidate running for governor who tells you we can do this that and this without talking about revenue is not being honest with you. As governor, I’m going to put it on the table. We have to have a discussion on revenue and how we’re going to pay for transportation. I don’t believe you raise tolls or do anything in a down economy, but we at least better have a discussion when things get moving the way we want to be.”

Another big idea from McAuliffe is one that I have been advancing here locally for Waynesboro – getting us ahead of the curve in the transition to the green economy. “Where are the jobs of the future? We’ve got to be very clear, because when we go out, we’ve got to have a plan for where to go get them. Those jobs are going to be green jobs,” McAuliffe said. “President Obama is going to spend a lot of federal money on creating green jobs. We in Virginia ought to be the leader in creating demonstration projects to make sure that we’re actually capturing those jobs.”

It’s an interesting perspective, and one that obviously I share. Everything else, essentially, flows from there, from the focus on the economy and economic growth and sustained viability.

McAuliffe will clearly be a tough out in the three-way Democratic Party race by virtue of his fundraising and organizational prowess evident in his turnaround of the DNC. You ask me, he’s no slouch on the issues, either.


– Story by Chris Graham

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