RICHMOND — When Terry McAuliffe took the oath of office Saturday, he became the first Virginia governor in almost 50 years to be elected with less than 50 percent of the popular vote, and his political background as a partisan rainmaker who's never before held elected office leaves a host of questions about how he'll manage the diverse and politically volatile state during his single term.
To be sure, Mr. McAuliffe delivered an efficient inaugural address in which he repeatedly emphasized the need for common ground, drawing applause from Republicans in the state legislature when speaking about the need to diversify the state's economy and improve workforce development.
Mr. McAuliffe praised the oft-cited "Virginia Way" — of putting results ahead of politics — and complimented predecessors like L. Douglas Wilder, the nation's first elected black governor, for helping shepherd the tradition.
"But it is also a tradition that must be sustained through constant work by leaders who choose progress over ideology," he said. "Common ground doesn't move towards us, we move towards it."
Republicans were less enthusiastic when Mr. McAuliffe spoke about the need to expand Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor, elderly, and disabled.
Mr. McAuliffe will get another chance to address a joint session of the General Assembly Monday evening. Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, both Democrats, resigned their state Senate seats Saturday, so Mr. McAuliffe will be addressing chambers that are, for the moment, controlled by Republicans.
Delegate Steven Landes, Augusta Republican, said Sunday that the issue is one in which Mr. McAuliffe — who has already spoken to every GOP legislator in the General Assembly — might not be able to win over his opponents with his characteristic salesmanship.
"Governor McAuliffe and his allies will make a big push for Medicaid expansion, but expanding Medicaid without considering the consequences and without exploring other options would be contrary to Virginia's traditionally conservative approach to budgeting," Mr. Landes, vice chairman of the commission tasked with overseeing Medicaid reform and expansion, said in the state Republican Party's opening weekly address. "Medicaid expansion is a key part of Obamacare. And it would be irresponsible to entangle Virginia in Washington's health care mess."
State Sen. Janet D. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, said in the rebuttal to Mr. McDonnell's final State of the Commonwealth address that Democrats look forward to working with Mr. McAuliffe and their Republican counterparts on expanding Medicaid, protecting women's access to health care, reforming Virginia's ethics laws and improving the state's education system.
On at least one of those fronts, Mr. McAuliffe hit the ground running Saturday, signing four executive orders, including one imposing a $100 gift limit on himself, his family and his administration. He also created a commission in the executive branch to oversee the order — an outgrowth of a scandal involving a wealthy campaign donor that has overshadowed much of Mr. McDonnell's final year in office.
Following through on a campaign pledge, the first executive order Mr. McAuliffe signed prohibits discrimination in the state workforce based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, political affiliation, or otherwise qualified people with disabilities.
In including the section on sexual orientation, Mr. McAuliffe followed in the footsteps of his Democratic predecessors, Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner. But the order also protects transgender people for the first time as well.
Though Mr. McAuliffe has repeatedly said he'll be a "brick wall" against legislation that could affect women's access to health care, he has sent mixed signals to pro-choice activists who overwhelmingly supported him during the campaign.
Mr. McAuliffe pledged repeatedly that he would issue a "guidance document" that would allow the state's roughly two dozen abortion clinics to remain open despite controversial new regulations.
Mr. McAuliffe departed from that rhetoric in a recent interview with Richmond's NBC affiliate. He reiterated that he would veto any legislation that would restrict women's rights but appeared less enthusiastic than he has in the past about tackling social issues, saying only that he plans to "look at" the clinic regulations.
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