Outgoing Governor Terry McAuliffe gave his final State of the Commonwealth speech in Richmond Wednesday night. He celebrated Virginia’s growing economy and low unemployment, and said his greatest pride while in office was restoring voting rights to former felons.
“If you want to see the power of second chances, watch the videos that were posted on social media as grown men and women broke down in tears of joy after doing something that most people take for granted – voting in an election,” the Governor said.
McAuliffe spoke in front of a drastically different legislature than in years past. In a wave election, Democrats picked up 15 seats in November. McAuliffe warned lawmakers they’d do well to remember that.
“The people of Virginia in their wisdom have made significant changes to the composition of this General Assembly with a simple message in mind, work together and get things done.”
Reaction to the governor’s speech fell, perhaps not surprisingly, along party lines. Democrats were energized.
“Really the takeaway is the unity,” said freshman Delegate Karrie Delaney, a Democrat from Centreville. “There are a lot of issues that affect this commonwealth that are not based on party. They’re based on solving problems and getting things done for the people. We are now in the business of governing.”
Republicans stayed seated as the Governor called to expand Medicaid and create new gun control measures. Republican Leader Todd Gilbert says that was just McAuliffe being McAuliffe.
“I was expecting the governor to do what he does, which is take credit for things that other people worked very hard on and be himself. I don’t hold that against him,” Gilbert said. “He’s got a very unique style, and a lot of it involves claiming a lot of credit for things. So that’s great.”
But Republicans joined Democrats in praising the state’s low unemployment numbers.
“I mean c’mon! Jobs are bipartisanship. They’re no Democrat or Republican jobs. A job is a job!” declared the Governor to applause.
Republicans say the governor could have also talked about working with Republicans to reform mental health or expand services to veterans. Instead he talked about protecting abortion clinics and expanding voting rights to nonviolent felons.
“I think the governor had several audiences. But one of them was it’s well known he’s running for president in 2020 and he’s trying to impress Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire and Iowa as much as he’s speaking to the crowd that was there,” said Republican Delegate Rob Bell.
Democratic Delegate Jennifer Boysko says she doesn’t know what McAuliffe will do after he leaves the Executive Mansion.
“I do not have a crystal ball,” Boykso said. “He needs to follow his heart.”
McAuliffe still has a few days in office. His successor, Ralph Northam will be sworn in on Saturday.