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Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.

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McAuliffe becomes 72nd Va. governor

AP Photo

AP Photo

RICHMOND—Beaming and hatless despite sometimes drenching rain, Terry McAuliffe was sworn in as Virginia’s 72nd governor Saturday in a soggy ceremony on Virginia’s Capitol steps.

In a relatively brief inaugural address, McAuliffe promised bipartisanship and praised his predecessors, including now former Gov. Bob McDonnell.

McAuliffe, a longtime Democratic political fundraiser and operative before making his first, short-lived run for governor of Virginia four years ago, said becoming governor now is “the greatest honor of my life.”

He was joined by his wife, Dorothy, and their five children. Old friends former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also attended the ceremony, sitting behind the McAuliffes under an umbrella bearing the logo of Richmond’s high-end hotel The Jefferson.

Eight former governors and some national political figures attended the ceremony, along with many members of the General Assembly and outgoing Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

Outgoing Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who lost the governor’s race to McAuliffe, was not present.

New Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring also were sworn in, making this the first time in years that Virginia’s top three statewide offices have been held by Democrats.

Pouring rain kept the crowd small and briefly delayed the swearing-in ceremony, traditionally held rain or shine on the Capitol steps. But the skies dried up for McAuliffe to deliver his inaugural address.

He promised to enact ethics rules and refuse any gifts worth more than $100, an issue that arose because of gifts given to the McDonnells by a wealthy donor. McDonnell was already gone by the time McAuliffe reached that line of his speech; he and wife Maureen had left the ceremony, as tradition, immediately after McAuliffe was sworn in. The McDonnells went to a home they own in Henrico County, where they plan to live.

The crowd applauded for the ethics promise, but there were fewer hands clapping among Republican lawmakers when McAuliffe said Virginia needs to expand Medicaid eligibility.

“We need to act on the consensus of the business community and health care industry to accept funding that will expand health care coverage, save rural hospitals, and spur job creation,” McAuliffe said. “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.”

McAuliffe said, as he has before, that the biggest policy challenge he has inherited is that of diversifying Virginia’s economy “in the face of inevitable federal spending cuts and heightened competition from abroad.”

He said he’ll work to ensure equal opportunities in spite of gender, geography, race, religion or sexual orientation.

McAuliffe also said he’d work to ensure equal educational opportunities for “the children of new immigrants to Virginia” and to protect the rights of women to make personal health care decisions.

Four years from now at his successor’s inauguration, McAuliffe said, he hopes to leave that person with a state that has “broader economic opportunity,” better pre-K and workforce development programs and equality.

“The impediments to consensus are well known: ideology, personal political ambition, partisanship or score-settling. Identifying the roadblocks is not a challenge,” McAuliffe said. “What is hard is having the humility to admit that each of us has allowed these impediments to influence our decisions. And even more challenging is having the foresight to put them aside for the greater good.”

After the swearing-in, McAuliffe signed several executive orders. His first bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The second outlines the gift cap and creates an executive branch ethics commission. He also designated $100,000 for the ethics commission—which can hire two full-time staff—to help enforce ethics rules for his administration.

McAuliffe began inauguration day at an interfaith prayer breakfast near the state Capitol, pledging that “all boats will rise in a McAuliffe administration.”

“I am so excited,” McAuliffe said in brief remarks at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. “Then again, as you all know, I’m always excited.”

He also formally received the key to the Executive Mansion from McDonnell in a short ceremony inside the Capitol. McDonnell told McAuliffe he won’t actually need the key.

The key, McDonnell told the McAuliffes, “is something you will never need” because a security detail squires the governor to and from the residence.

McAuliffe’s swearing-in was followed by a parade and an open house at the Executive Mansion.

At the open house, McAuliffe and wife Dorothy greeted members of the public, shaking hands and posing for pictures in the 200-year-old house’s Old Governor’s Office.

One man told McAuliffe he’s a state employee—McAuliffe is his new boss. McAuliffe asked if the employee had any piece of advice for him; the employee said McAuliffe should just let state workers do their jobs.

Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245

cdavis@freelancestar.com 

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