How Terry McAuliffe lost control of Virginia

Gerren Shipley, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, told Rare that Democrats are reacting to his party’s unexpected takeover of the state Senate, “poorly, to put it mildly.”

“Our counterparts at the state Democratic Party have flat-out accused Republicans of bribery, using that word. The Republicans ‘have bribed’ a senator to resign, and that is certainly not the case,” Shipley said.

The upper house has a rule against approving a judgeship for family members of sitting senators. Democratic State Senator Phillip Puckett stepped down to give his daughter the opportunity to accept a judgeship appointment.

Puckett’s resignation gave the Republicans a temporary 20-19 advantage at a key time. They can now send a budget to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s desk without the Medicaid expansion that he and fellow Democrats were trying to force through the legislature.

Shipley gives us a paint-by-numbers explanation of how the the tide turned against the Democrats:

  • “Gov. McAuliffe campaigned on almost one issue exclusively. He said he wouldn’t sign a budget unless it had Medicaid expansion in it.
  • “The Democrats simply refused to move a budget forward that did not contain Medicaid expansion. They were hoping to hold the budget hostage: either you expand Medicaid in Virginia, or we let the government shut down.
  • “It wasn’t a popular prospect. The federal government shutdown definitely hurt our candidates last year and they were banking on the fact that Republicans would bear the brunt of the blame again.
  • “We saw a lot of polling done that said your average folks out there really weren’t on board with Medicaid expansion. Our message that this was an expansion of Obamacare, that is was going to make government bigger, and that Medicaid was already very badly broken, really resonated.
  • “We got our message out there early: Medicaid is hamstrung with federal bureaucracy and there are millions upon millions of dollars of waste in the Virginia system alone. The approach that our folks have taken is: we have to fix Medicaid before we can even put expansion on the table. You don’t keep pouring water into a bucket that’s full of leaks. And so, we don’t want to start pouring a new bucket of federal money that might go away into a program that is just riddled with problems.”

And so, the Democrats adjourned the Senate “with no intention of returning,” Shipley said. A few high-level Democrats had plans to jet out of the country for vacation. They were “counting on the Republican- controlled House of Delegates losing their nerve and folding.”

The Republican delegates kept their nerve.

Democrats were counting on public outcry against the GOP, which Shipley claims never materialized. “The House made its position clear,” he said. “We’re not going to reward hostage-taking; that’s not a responsible way to do it. We have to have a budget before we can start talking Medicaid expansion.”

And now Puckett’s resignation has caused Democrats to be “apoplectic.”

“They were already starting to get a little unhinged,” he said, “because they were just shocked that the polling was not going their way. They just could not understand how their argument was not resonating.”

Shipley says the take-away from all this is: “Stand your ground. Unified Republicans can run and win on a message of opposing Obamacare because it is unpopular, and people are starting to see the end results of the program. It simply taints everything it touches.

“Republicans are the adults in the room,” Shipley went on. “They said, ‘We’re going to look at [the problems] calmly and rationally, but in the meantime, we’re going to be sure our teachers and firefighters and first responders still get paychecks.’ The Democrats dug in their heels.”

The budget was discharged from a committee on Thursday, the House of Delegates returned to approve it, and it was sent on to Gov. McAuliffe.

The governor issued a statement promising, “When this budget reaches my desk I will evaluate it carefully and take the actions that I deem necessary, but this fight is far from over.”

He added under his breath, “Next time, Gadget!”