Top Priorities for Virginia’s Next Governor
As a certified public policy nerd, I’m biased in saying this, but anyone running for Governor in 2017 here in Virginia needs to have his or her legislative agenda set and ready to go right about now. Obviously, circumstances can change, but creating an agenda that prioritizes key reforms or makes pushes into new fields is essential, especially when Virginia limits Governors to one term.
Having observed Richmond up close and personal for a few years now, here’s where I’d recommend the next Governor focus his or her efforts:
Maintaining Forward Progress on Voting Rights, Redistricting, and Ethics Reform—Governor Terry McAuliffe is probably best known for his energetic pursuit of any and all business he can bring to Virginia, but his focus on voting rights and ethics reform has been just as robust. He pushed and continues to push for cleaning up Richmond’s extreme tolerance of conflicts-of-interest, spurred by the previous Governor Bob McDonnell's conviction for corruption. Governor McAuliffe has used that scandal to springboard into an ever bigger drive to reform redistricting, finally putting some limits on campaign contributions, and taking basic steps to reduce corruption and increase accountability. And in what will likely be the most consequential single act of his governorship, Governor McAuliffe restored the voting rights to more than 120,000 Virginians who have served their full criminal sentences. The next Governor will have to stop a General Assembly that is intent on reinstituting the “Virginia Way” at every step.
Tying Economic Development to Workforce Development—Fellow wonk Jim Bacon beat me to the punch on this, but it’s time to stop playing this game where we throw money at incumbent businesses for the honor of relocating to Virginia. I’m all for public funding to build out business-specific infrastructure or train workers or otherwise help businesses succeed in Virginia. But any business that’s willing to jump from state to state lured by individualized tax incentives is always at risk of hopping again. I don’t expect the next Governor to overhaul economic development overnight, but our economy is in relatively good shape, and these kinds of long-term reforms won’t be on the table when the next recession comes along. Workforce development is no silver bullet, but building human capital is the only way to compete long term in a global economy. I have zero doubt Virginia can be a national leader on this.
Preventing Virginia From Turning Into North Carolina—If you haven’t been following the madness that’s been going on in North Carolina, you might want to get caught up. In short, Republicans gerrymandered the state district lines so crazily that Republican incumbents basically can’t get voted out. With no electoral brake, they’ve passed a very conservative social agenda, which includes their infamous HB2 transgender bathroom bill. The state has been hemorrhaging high-profile business deals for being so openly discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation. Without a Democratic Governor, Virginia will be next up on this list. Republicans wills hold all the cards for redistricting in 2021, will have the votes to pass their own agenda aimed at undermining LGBT rights, and will be able to wreak havoc on everything from women’s reproductive rights to workplace protections to access to guns. We need a strong Governor who will hold the line and work tirelessly to help our state delegates and Senators take back the General Assembly. Otherwise, the other side is going to have a field day trying to return Virginia to the 1950’s.
Expanding Broadband Internet to Every Corner of Virginia—I have no clue if coal jobs are ever coming back to the southwestern Virginia, but I know that we can’t make any assumption that they will. However you feel on the environmental side, there can be no productive economic transition away from coal without investing in the infrastructure needed to compete in a global economy. And there’s little chance these communities will ever be able to scale up high-paying, competitive jobs without excellent Internet broadband infrastructure. My own opinion is that the best way to do this is to have the Commonwealth floats bonds—just like we do for Virginia’s colleges and universities—for local municipalities to build out their own broadband systems (they then repay the loans off of user fees), but there are plenty of good approaches out there. We just can’t wait any longer for the private sector. There is no excuse not to grab this lowest-hanging of economic development fruit right now.
Fighting Like Hell for Virginians’ Healthcare—Barring a miracle, Obamacare will be gone very soon. And it will take a miracle for Congressional Republicans to pass anything a third as good. The result will be Trumpcare: a series of punts to states like Virginia to patch together a system only a madman would design. The next Governor is going to have to be ready from day one to use the power of the office to issue executive orders, spin up regulations, work with the Attorney General to build cases against the federal government, and otherwise resist and refuse any attempt to take away Virginians’ healthcare. You can’t negotiate with hostage-takers, especially ones who will have just shot a few innocent by-standers in the hopes you unilaterally give into their demands.
This is just my quick study of the major policy issues, but it’s hardly comprehensive. The candidates for Governor need to have concrete positions and priorities established well beyond the areas I've mentioned, and well in advance. As the rest of the country falls out of love with Trump and sees the damage a Republican Congress can do, Virginians will be looking for clear, concise, and passionate stances on the issues from their candidates in 2017.
After all, the real fight is happening here and now.