- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Five debates among Democrats running for Virginia governor find them largely agreed on what they’ll do if elected and bickering over what they’ve said to get elected.

On transportation, energy, public schools and jobs, state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, former Democratic National Committee chief Terry McAuliffe and former Delegate Brian J. Moran have offered variations on the same theme for weeks.

Only when the hourlong final debate before their June 9 primary reached its final frenetic 15 minutes did the three-way forum became a full-fledged game of “gotcha.”

And the most common target: the merrily voluble Mr. McAuliffe.

Mr. Deeds challenged the longtime confidant of former President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to explain how he would deliver on a list of promises made since he opened his campaign in January, ranging from a new high school gym in Martinsville to reforming the snowballing state Medicaid budget, which has defied governors and legislators for decades.

“You promised teachers you’d pay off their mortgages, you’d pay off their student loans. You promised you’d use your Hollywood connections to make Virginia the film capital of the world,” Mr. Deeds said, pressing Mr. McAuliffe like a prosecutor. “Those are just the things you’ve said in public. I don’t know what you’ve said in private.”

Mr. McAuliffe never detailed how he would find the billions of new dollars or make the billions in cuts that Medicaid reform alone would entail. But that didn’t stop him.

“Everything I’ve proposed - I hate to say this - is being done in other states. We’re just not doing it,” Mr. McAuliffe replied, unfazed.

He said success of his proposals hinges on a Democratic takeover of the House of Delegates this fall, removing a six-seat Republican majority that he said has obstructed Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and his predecessor, Mark Warner, now a U.S. senator.

“I don’t want to be 50th in anything,” he said. “John Kennedy didn’t say we should take a rocket halfway to the moon.”

Mr. Moran, Mr. McAuliffe’s most bitter rival, accused him of pocketing nearly $20 million from a $100,000 investment in high-speed telecommunications giant Global Crossing. Mr. McAuliffe actually realized $8 million from his investment 10 years ago, investment records show, not the widely reported $18 million.

“There’s very few things, Brian, that you have said that are true,” Mr. McAuliffe said, lamenting what he called Mr. Moran’s “divisive and destructive” politics. Then, within seconds, Mr. McAuliffe accused Mr. Moran of voting in 2002 to legalize payday lending - short-term loans that charge exorbitant interest rates.

In February 2002, Mr. Moran voted for a bill setting ground rules for the industry. In April of that year, he voted with 75 other delegates to reject Mr. Warner’s amendments to study the industry and recommend ways to tighten its regulation to the 2003 General Assembly.

Legislators said they thought at the time their bill would restrain the industry. Over the years, however, they saw it proliferate, charging rates exceeding 300 percent on an annual basis. In 2005, Mr. Moran voted to crack down on the lenders. He has accepted $30,200 from payday lenders and other consumer credit businesses since 1996, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Mr. McAuliffe also tripped over his record of donations. He has promised never to take cash from the state’s dominant utility, Dominion Power. Yet Mr. Deeds noted that Mr. McAuliffe welcomed cash from people intimately tied to the power company, which this year seeks its second rate increase in as many years.

Mr. Deeds noted that retired Dominion Chief Executive Officer Thomas E. Capps held a fundraiser for Mr. McAuliffe. But Mr. Capps, Mr. McAuliffe interjected, had not written him a check. Not so. Mr. McAuliffe took $2,500 cash from Mr. Capps on March 31, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Recently retired Dominion executive Eva Teig Hardy also gave Mr. McAuliffe $2,500, the same sum she gave Mr. Deeds, on March 31.

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