It's not easy being Terry McAuliffe. The Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia has a union problem in a state that's not enthusiastic about unions and their bosses.
Since 1947, for example, the commonwealth has protected Virginians from forced membership in a union, however cleverly forced unionism is portrayed, with a tough right-to-work law that protects everyone's right to hold a job without having to share a paycheck with strangers. Virginia's stance on right-to-work is rooted in the principle expressed by Thomas Jefferson: "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical."
Mr. McAuliffe has collected $1.5 million for his campaign from unions, much of it deducted from union paychecks around the country, and in exchange, the unions will reasonably expect a return for their money. Union bosses do not like right-to-work. They hate it. In return for their support, as Mr. McAuliffe knows, the union bosses want their man in Richmond to do what he can to overturn or water down the right-to-work law, and "what he can" is expected to be a lot. This puts the astute Mr. McAuliffe in a bit of a pickle, no doubt a sour dill.
He knows the people he's asking to vote for him don't particularly like the idea of a man or woman being forced to join a union. Some Virginians might join as long as it's a free choice. Others want no part of a union. It's the right to a choice that's crucial. In a speech in January to the National Federation of Independent Business, Mr. McAuliffe acknowledged this. "We are a great right-to-work state," he said. "We should never change that. It helps us do what we need to do to grow our businesses here in Virginia. I think it's very important."
But that was in January. Now it's June. Campaigning in Loudoun County this week, Mr. McAuliffe didn't change his tune, exactly, but he danced around the subject, unwilling to say anything to upset his labor benefactors at an event celebrating Metrorail's Silver Line, a $6 billion extension of Metrorail to Washington Dulles International Airport. He looked like a man wishing he were somewhere else. There was nothing to say to this audience about what a great right-to-work state Virginia is, nor was there a promise "never to change that."
Even if Mr. McAuliffe stays true to his word when he's talking to a business audience, he may feel compelled to pay back his union supporters with labor agreements for public construction projects. These prevailing-wage schemes require taxpayers to pay a 20 percent premium on all work done. Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor of Virginia, successfully resisted an effort by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority to impose the 20 percent premium in building the Silver Line. Mr. McAuliffe won't say, clearly, whether we would similarly protect taxpayers under similar pressure.
Real leadership often requires disappointing friends and supporters when principle is at stake. It's the ultimate test of whether voters can trust a candidate for office, low, high or otherwise. Voters are right to regard taking a dance around a tough issue as failing that test. Mr. McAuliffe should bear that in mind. So should the voters of Virginia.
The Washington Times
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