Today’s Roanoke Times Editorial highlights how out of touch Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie is with both the Virginia economy and the economic accomplishments of Governor Terry McAuliffe. The editorial criticizes Gillespie for being willfully ignorant of the impact of sequestration, the economic challenges that Governor McAuliffe inherited, and for disparaging the psychological and economic gains brought to Southwest through the Deschutes and Ballast Point Brewery deals.
As the article notes, Governor McAuliffe is considered among the best governors for Southwest Virginia's economy ever, and as "by far the best salesman the Commonwealth has ever had."
If Ed Gillespie ever left his Washington D.C. bunker and spent some time in Virginia, he would understand that breweries like Deschutes and Ballast Point bring manufacturing, tourism and retail jobs to areas of the Commonwealth that are in need of economic growth and diversification.
He would also understand that denigrating the economic progress Virginia has made under Governor McAuliffe is out of touch with reality and deeply insulting to the Virginians who have worked hard to achieve it.
Editorial: Why bad-mouth our beer?
The Roanoke Times
November 4, 2016
We hate to skip ahead to the next election just when the current one is getting so interesting, but a recent statement by one of the candidates for governor next year said deserves some inspection.
Let’s rewind to late August, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that state revenues were coming in below budget — resulting in a $1.5 billion projected shortfall. The governor gave an overview of the state’s economy and, as governors are wont to do, called attention to the bright spots, including a low unemployment rate.
That prompted a response from one of the four Republicans who would like to succeed the Democrat McAuliffe, former national party chairman Ed Gillespie. In a commentary published in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Gillespie called for “a real conversation about the true state of our commonwealth’s economy.”
So far, so good.
Gillespie then went to blame the Affordable Care Act for encouraging businesses to hire part-time workers at the expense of full-time workers. That may be true, but that’s also a nationwide trend, not something unique to Virginia.
He doesn’t mention what is unique to Virginia — the structural problems with the state’s economy. Our economic growth hit zero — literally, zero — until the term of Republican Bob McDonnell and stayed stuck at nearly zero during the first year of McAuliffe’s term.
That has nothing to do with who sits in the governor’s office and everything to do with this: Economic growth has stalled in our two biggest metro areas, Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. They’ve been dependent on federal spending that isn’t happening like it used to. For years, the growth there masked the fact that the much of the rest of the state, including Southwest Virginia, was a slow-growth zone. Now we’re seeing the whole state is a slow-growth economy.
In 2015, Virginia’s economy grew by 1.4 percent — up from zero the previous two years, but still slow enough to rank it just 32nd in the country, tied with Michigan and New York, two states synonymous with the Rust Belt.
That’s why politicians from both parties in Richmond pushed the recent $2.2 billion bond issue, which invests in science-related projects intended to create a new economy in the state, one more weighted toward the private sector. Here in Roanoke, that means doubling the size of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, which is seen as an engine for medical start-ups.
That’s also why politicians from both parties backed the so-called “Go Virginia” program, which sets aside $86.5 million in two different pots of money to spend on regional projects — again, with the goal being to create the foundations of a new economy.
Now, we understand that it’s in Gillespie’s political interest to blame the other party for the state’s economy, and not talk up the fact that there’s actually bipartisanship agreement on what the problem is — and what at least part of the solution should be.
However, we now come to the more curious — and potentially worrisome — part of Gillespie’s critique:
“The governor and his team have spent considerable time traveling the world “selling” Virginia. They have worked aggressively to bring new employers here with deals and incentives. Governors from both parties do this, and I applaud all efforts to bring new employers to Virginia and open new markets to our products. However, while such actions can produce some enthusiastic press releases, they can also mask a reality that many may not want to face: An economy the size of Virginia’s, with a GDP roughly equivalent to that of Belgium, is simply too big to be fundamentally moved or changed by one-shot deals. As House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said when the shortfall didn’t end up matching the rhetoric in the governor’s economic incentive-driven job announcements, You can’t balance the budget with beer.’”
Two things ought to be said here. The first is that Gillespie is absolutely correct when he says that no governor — not even one who is such an enthusiastic salesman as McAuliffe — can make enough deals to transform the state’s economy.
On the other hand, a single deal can be transformational to a specific community, especially smaller ones. Why would Gillespie discount those? Granted, he’s not saying he wouldn’t continue the tradition of the governor-as-pitchman, but he’s not exactly vowing to be a super-salesman either.
Here’s an inconvenient fact: McAuliffe may not be popular in this part of the state for his politics, but he is highly regarded for his attention to economic development. We hear lots of business and political types who say the three best governors for economic development in Southwest Virginia have been George Allen (a Republican), Mark Warner (a Democrat) and … McAuliffe.
None other than the president of Virginia Western Community College — who ought to be regarded as a credible, nonpartisan voice — has called McAuliffe “by far the best salesman the Commonwealth has ever had.”
All the candidates for governor might want to keep that in mind — and talk about how they’d do even better, even if they pursue different policies.
Repeating Cox’s quip about “you can’t balance the budget with beer” rankles, too. We understand what Cox was trying to say. It’s the same point Gillespie is making: Even a record number of economic development announcements (which McAuliffe has) still aren’t enough to turn a slow-growth state into a high-growth one.
On the other hand, two of those breweries the governor has announced happen to be in the Roanoke Valley. Winning the Deschutes Brewery was psychologically transformational for the valley, which for too long seemed to be the runner-up and never the winner. Winning the Ballast Point brewery really will be economically transformational for Botetourt County. That’s our beer now, and we’re proud of it. Why bad-mouth that? And why would Gillespie repeat that bad-mouthing? It comes across like yet another urban crescent politician looking down on the western part of the state.
There are better ways for Gillespie to make his case, especially in this part of the state. Perhaps he’d like to talk about that sometime — over a beer.