Time For ‘Common Ground’

As McAuliffe Takes Helm, Valley Lawmakers Wary But Willing To Work With New Governor

Posted: January 13, 2014

HARRISONBURG — Republican legislators from the central Valley are cautiously optimistic about working with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who shared his vision for the next four years when he took office over the weekend. But GOP lawmakers said they would stick to their principles and not back down on their conservative agenda.  

During his inaugural address in Richmond on Saturday, McAuliffe said that Virginia, like most other states, needs to act on the consensus of the business community and health care industry to accept funding to expand health care coverage, save rural hospitals and spur job creation.

“With a stronger health care system in Virginia as our objective, I will work with the legislature to build on the Medicaid reforms that the General Assembly has already achieved, and to put Virginians’ own tax dollars to work keeping families healthy and creating jobs here in the Commonwealth,” he said.

“Finally, the greatest policy challenge we face is diversifying Virginia’s economy in the face of inevitable federal spending cuts and heightened competition from abroad,” he added.

In a prepared statement posted on his website, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, said Saturday’s ceremony would be “bittersweet” — a reference to his narrow loss to Attorney General Mark Herring.

“It is inauguration weekend in Richmond, and we are going to witness the swearing in of three Democrats — for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General,” Obenshain wrote in his statement, adding, “As Republicans, we have our work cut out for us over the next four years.”

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said it’s the start of a new dynamic at the General Assembly, and legislators remain hopeful that they can work together on solutions that will benefit all Virginians.

“To the extent that we disagree, I assume that there are going to be lines drawn,” he said. “That just may be the way a divided government works. It’s certainly the way the Founding Fathers intended, that not everybody gets their way all the time, and we have to work together to try to find common ground.”

Gilbert was encouraged that the governor wants to reach across the aisle and work with Republicans on several issues, including growing Virginia’s economy. At the same time there are going to be areas where they clearly already disagree, such as the expansion of the “broken” Medicaid system.

“That is going to be a flashpoint for disagreement and we have already set up a system to require significant reforms to Medicaid before we even consider whether or not it should be expanded. Certainly I don’t think House Republicans, at least, intend to deviate from the clear path that we have laid out for Medicaid reform,” he added.

Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, said the outgoing administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell has already worked hard expanding the economy in Virginia, and the General Assembly has been, and will continue to be, supportive on that issue.

Landes cited the success the state has had with increasing agricultural and forestry exports as an example of how the state has grown the economy over the last four years.

“Obviously, the legislative branch’s job is to be a check and balance on the executive. That has been true since 1776 and will continue to be in 2014,” he said. “We look forward to working with the administration and trying to do best we can for Shenandoah Valley and for Virginia.”

Contact Jonathon Shacat at 574-6286 or jshacat@dnronline.com

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