Interview: McAuliffe Reflects on Time as Virginia's Governor

Jan 11, 2018


Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is all smiles as he walks out of the House Democratic caucus prior to opening ceremonies of the 2018 session of the Virginia House of Delegates.
Credit Steve Helber / AP

This is the last week of Terry McAuliffe’s term as Governor of Virginia. McAuliffe’s official portrait was unveiled this week. In it he has his hand on an executive order. The one where he restored voting rights to former felons.


McAuliffe: Clearly one of them. I would think right up there was building the New Virginia Economy. 200,000 new jobs. Record $20 billion of investment. But restoring those rights of those returning citizens, and I’ve now restored more rights than any Governor in the history of America. These people have paid their debts to society. They should be able to vote, they’re back, they’re paying taxes. So we should not permanently disenfranchise folks their whole life.

Noe-Payne: Let’s talk about Charlottesville. You mentioned it during your state of the Commonwealth as one of your lowest points during your tenure. Looking back on that day, would you prepare any differently?

McAuliffe: I don’t think the state would. We put down, I put the national guard, I think it was the first time in decades that the guard had been committed. We put nearly a thousand state police down there. The largest ever. So we knew, we’d been tipped off by the FBI and the DHS that people were being told to come with guns and, the problem you had was unified command. The local jurisdiction over Virginia law, they make the decisions. But at some point when I was watching television I called Brian Moran my Secretary of Public Safety, at about 11:20, I said I don’t care about unified command. Send our state police in. And they did. So I have a bill I’m putting in to give local jurisdictions the authority to ban firearms. If people started opening fire inside that park it would have been bedlam.

Noe-Payne:  Now you have a very, loud boisterous in your face leadership style. A lot different from the incoming Governor, he’s a little bit more low-key -- dare I say a little more humble.

McAuliffe: Well I don’t know about humble, we’re different personalities.

Noe-Payne:  Do you think there’s something he’s going to be able to accomplish that you weren’t able to?

McAuliffe: Well I clearly hope he’ll do Medicaid expansion. We’re very close. Bill Howell, the speaker, said it would never happen as long as he was speaker. Well he’s no longer speaker. So I’m hoping now we have an opportunity to get it done.


Extra Audio: McAuliffe On One of His Favorite Trade Missions



Noe-Payne:  Okay, so back to the portrait. There’s a little alligator in the corner. Whose idea was that?

McAuliffe: Well when we sat down with Gavin I told him a couple things were important to me. Economic development. As you know I’m the most traveled Governor in America, I’ve been on 35 trade missions to 5 continents to bring jobs back. So there’s a globe in the picture. When I became Governor they foolishly had put up the Port of Virginia for sale. You don’t sell your assets. You don’t sell Dulles Airport, you don’t sell the Port. We invested in it and now its made money for three straight years. It’s been saved, it's had a resurgence. So there’s a little cargo ship in there as well. And then right in the corner is a small little alligator head. Because in 1980 I once wrestled an alligator for five minutes for $15,000.

Noe-Payne: What happened to that $15,000?

McAuliffe: Yeah I didn’t even get it. It was actually, I was working on President Carter’s re-election and it went to the campaign. But as I say, here we now are 40 years later still talking about that alligator. His name was Jumper he was about 9 feet tall. He was a big gator. 280 pounds.

Noe-Payne: Okay serious question. Are you ready to tackle Oprah in the 2020 Democratic primary?  

McAuliffe: Well I’m not sure Oprah’s running, we’ll see what happens. Well honestly Mallory I’m trying to get everyone to focus on, this year we have 36 Governor’s races up this year. I’m heading up this big national effort on redistricting, to get fair lines. Right now politicians pick their voters - not the other way around. So I’m doing those two things. So I’ll travel extensively this year to 36 states, helping the Governors. I’ve gotten over 125 speaking requests already to do different things. We’ll play it out this year, we’ll see where 2020 goes down the road.


This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.