Former Gov. Doug Wilder offers words of praise, caution for Terry McAuliffe

(WJLA) - It’s been nearly a month since Democrat Terry McAuliffe became Virginia’s governor-elect, and his early moves have drawn specific praise from one key ally and qualified praise from one potential protagonist.

To wit:

When meeting privately early last month with McAuliffe to give him his endorsement, former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder (D) received a promise: Should McAuliffe win, he immediately would seek counsel from Wilder about transition-team appointments as well as choosing those who would serve in his administration.

Sure enough, after McAuliffe was elected, defeating Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli, he put in a call to Wilder, the nation’s first black governor since Reconstruction.

“He made arrangements for us to get together, and we did, and we chatted and I was very impressed with the fact that, well, two things,” Wilder said by phone. “One is that he didn’t forget (the promise), and two that he understands how important it is to be in consideration of the role that money does play in governance.

“. . .The one-word definition for politics is money. You name the proposal, you name the program, you name the policy, and I’ll show you where you’re talking about money – the issue, where does it come from, where is it going to be spent, who makes those decisions? So I told Terry those were some of the more important things he needed to concentrate on – money.”


“And you need to have people around you with that in mind, it’s not just something that we can afford to make a mistake with, and so I told him it would be in his best interests to be certain to have some of the people who are already there to stay there, particularly as it relates to finance and budget,” Wilder said. “And he agreed with that, and he asked me if I would speak to some of those people, and I did.”

Shortly afterward, McAuliffe made his initial few administration choices, notably among them Secretary of Finance Ric Brown, who will be monitoring and shaping the state’s fiscal path under his 11th Virginia governor.

So when Wilder (D) was told last Thursday that the lead editorial in that day’s Richmond Times-Dispatch ran with the headline “McAuliffe Administration: Good start,” he laughed incredulously. After all, the newspaper’s editorial board has been reliably and staunchly conservative for decades upon decades.

“Well, this is the second time they’ve made my jaw drop,” Wilder said, still laughing, “because the first was when they did not endorse anybody.”

Yet Wilder steadfastly agreed with the Times-Dispatch’s assertion that keeping Brown on the job is essential to state’s well-being because, went the editorial, “The budget is the portal through which so much government policy moves, which makes intimate knowledge of state finance crucial to the success of any administration. . . The important appointments are the ones that count, and so far McAuliffe is staying well within the guardrails of tradition and common sense. . .Virginia should take it as an encouraging sign that he has not stumbled right out of the gate.”

The very next day, McAuliffe named Republican Aubrey Layne Secretary of Transportation. Layne has been on the Commonwealth Transportation Board since 2009 and has a keen understanding of Virginia’s transportation infrastructure and how and why money is allocated to this project or that project.

With many more slots to fill between now and the Jan. 11 inauguration, McAuliffe will have to make some tough choices, and as such, Wilder – now head of the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University – has some tough-love advice.

This, in light of the fact that McAuliffe’s career in politics, as head of the Democratic National Committee and prolific fundraiser for Bill and Hillary Clinton, has not previously included elected office.

“Everybody that helps you in a campaign, you want to be grateful to them, you’re thankful to them and where they (might) fit in, you can see that that takes place,” Wilder said. “But it’s not an automatic recipe for a job in government. You still need to be certain that you have the best qualified people there, notwithstanding whether they helped you or not, whether they helped you get the nomination last time or not. (The key thing to consider is) what’s best for the governance of the state and what skill sets do you bring?

“It’s going to be up and down, you’re going to make people upset on both sides (but) that’s not important if it is geared toward doing what’s in the best interest of the people, as you see it -- as the person who calls the shots.”