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Dinner with Terry McAuliffe

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Last Friday, I spent some time at an informal dinner hosted by Democratic candidate for Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe. After a few minutes of banter, the roundtable began in earnest.

T-Mac's espoused platform is jobs, jobs, and one other thing I can't quite remember right now, but it's on the tip of my tongue. Oh, yeah: more jobs. He spoke for a long time about how the Republican-led House of Delegates has stood in the way of effort after effort at making Virginia a hospitable place for new green businesses. I nearly fell out of my chair when T-Mac openly admired the steps Haley Barbour has taken in Mississippi to attract business. Haley Barbour?

That wasn't to be the first thing Terry said that left me agape...

Soon thereafter, buried within a long answer to another question, T-Mac mentioned his opposition to tax increases.

Again, I wanted to make sure I heard clearly: "You're opposed to raising taxes?"

He was.

"Have you driven around Northern Virginia? Have you seen all these 8,000 sq. ft. estates? These mansions? All these new houses built for lobbyists, war profiteers and others that have grown fat in the last eight years? You're opposed to raising their taxes at the same time the state shutters children's hospitals?"

Mac said he'd get back to me on that. About 20 minutes later, I brought it up again.

His response was that he simply couldn't run on a campaign platform that included tax increases. I noted the subtlety. I can't tell, so I'll leave it up to the reader to decide whether he was placating a critic (me), or speaking in a form of political shorthand that was meant to leave the impression that he would be open to some sorts of tax increases.

McAuliffe also spoke a lot about the African-American outreach he has been doing. He won plaudits from some of the other bloggers in the room, but I've been around politics long enough to know that outreach is only as good as the policy changes that result from the dialogue. With that in mind, I asked, "With regard to African-Americans and the state budget, have you looked at what the elimination of parole has done to Virginia state prison populations? There was recently an article in the press about some states looking to rescind the death penalty as a cost-saving measure? Have you considered anything like that?"

T-Mac's response was pretty disappointing. He spoke about the need for better schools and his plan to streamline the felon re-enfranchisement process. I didn't hear him say anything at all about criminal justice reform.

In the end, I got the impression that McAuliffe has a lot of work to do if he is to win over progressives. For many of us, it is easy to believe that establishment Democrats from the nineties (and who personifies the ideal better than Terry McAuliffe?) have much more in common with their Republican colleagues than they do with those of us striving every day to get by. It's these folks that grew chummy with the lobbyists, the corporate chiefs and the beltway pundits that ride the cocktail circuit. T-Mac in particular has got a long history of making things work out pretty well for himself after decimating the organizations he led. I'll have more on that in the weeks and months ahead.

For now, though, maybe it is sufficient to note that one of those 8,000-square-foot mansions I referenced in my first question is owned by T-Mac.