Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: Wrapping up … moving up … ?


A subway train arrives at the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metrorail station. (Brian Kapur/The Current/July 2017)

Our neighbor to the south, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is entering the final six weeks of his term in office. But don’t think he’s finished with politics, either in his state or in the nation.

McAuliffe appeared last week on the WAMU Politics Hour with host Kojo Nnamdi, where your Notebook is the resident analyst. It was McAuliffe’s final appearance as governor, and we touched on a variety of issues that affect the District.

First up: the future of Metro. Although he gave no details, McAuliffe reaffirmed that the final biennial budget he’ll propose in December will include a “dedicated source of funding” for the troubled transit system. He first suggested he might do so last September.

But at the radio station, McAuliffe would give nary a hint of what that funding would be.

“I’m not going to get ahead of my skies on the budget,” McAuliffe said when pressed. We asked him for a ballpark of ideas he considering.

“Listen, I know what I am doing,” the governor replied. “I’ve already plugged it into my budget. All I’m telling you is on Dec. 18, you will see in our great commonwealth budget that I have dedicated funding in it.”

McAuliffe quickly pivoted to worries about Metro’s management structure. “This governance issue, we should not just jump over,” he said, “because in fairness, it doesn’t work.” McAuliffe supports reducing the board from 16 seats to five.

Although some believe reducing the board would require a rewrite of the regional compact that created Metro, McAuliffe says it could be done more simply. Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government would decide what five members there would be and the others would resign. The board only needs five members for a quorum.

McAuliffe suggested the dramatic restructuring of the board may allow the state to approve that dedicated funding. “This is not easy,” he said. “I’ve got to pass it through my legislature.”

The District government has decided it would implement a 1 percent sales tax to come up with its “dedicated” funding. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed a short-term plan for each jurisdiction to come up with money for three years and then re-evaluate after more management reforms are in place.

“This is about showing leadership,” McAuliffe said, “about showing persuasion.” McAuliffe paved the way for his budget plan — whatever it is going to be — by commissioning a report from former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. That report has still not been officially released but was leaked to The Washington Post. In it LaHood recommended the smaller, more efficient board that would not include any elected officials.

In response, some local leaders said that changing the board was missing the point. “The idea that five technocrats somehow are going to usher in a new age of Pericles and provide the wisdom apparently we don’t have now is a false promise and raises expectations that will be quickly dashed,” said Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, quoted in a story by WAMU reporter Martin DiCaro.

LaHood also said dedicated funding is critical but, in a move that irritated many, failed to recommend what type of dedicated funding, leaving it up to the governments.

“We’ve got to quit putting roadblocks up around Metro,” said McAuliffe, who said the 40-year-old system can’t take more years of management inefficiency.

Whatever he proposes, McAuliffe won’t be around to see it happen. Virginia is a one-term state for governors. McAuliffe leaves office Jan. 13. Incoming Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam will steer the state through the next chapter.

During the WAMU interview, McAuliffe also said he still wants to see the Washington Redskins build a billion-dollar stadium in Northern Virginia. He says the state will work with the team on a site, but the team would pay for any stadium.

“We’ve had a lot of great meetings with them,” he said. And McAuliffe reiterated that the team’s name won’t be a problem. That could be a hangup in the District. McAuliffe said Virginia is more interested in economic development and entertainment in the state.

What of McAuliffe himself?

He and his wife are moving back from Richmond to Northern Virginia. But McAuliffe has his eye a bit farther east — on the White House. It’s early, and there are a dozen or two people “mentioned” as potential 2020 Democratic candidates. McAuliffe sees himself among them.

“I don’t know what I am going to do, yet,” he told us. “But in order for a Democrat to win the White House, you have to have a jobs candidate … someone who focuses on economic development.” He spent the next minutes rattling off positive economic statistics.

We pointed out on the show that past is prologue. McAuliffe first ran for governor in 2009 but was beaten by Creigh Deeds, the Democrat who went on to lose to Republican Bob McDonnell.

McAuliffe didn’t slink away. He spent the next four years crisscrossing the state, attending more than 2,400 events in support of local Democrats and Virginia businesses. By 2013, McAuliffe won his party’s nomination and the governorship.

Watch him in 2018. McAuliffe intends to campaign nationwide for U.S. House and Senate candidates. But he says he’ll also focus on the 36 governor races next year. “They like the way Virginia is going, and that’s the message we have to take to the country,” he said.

McAuliffe enjoys campaigning, has a proven record of fundraising and could be positioned well if America looks for a competent politician rather than an outsider in the next election.

“I think anybody realistically who is thinking about running for president would probably be looking at early ’19 to make a decision,” McAuliffe said.

Until then, watch his travel schedule.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.