McAuliffe’s executive orders don’t sit well with political opponents

McAuliffe’s executive orders don’t sit well with political opponents
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By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Terry McAuliffe pledges to sign two executive orders on his first day as governor, but the leader of the GOP-controlled House of Delegates says the Democrat shouldn’t get too comfortable handing down edicts.

“Governor-elect McAuliffe has the ability to issue executive orders. This ability is not, however, an unlimited one,” said House Speaker Bill Howell.

McAuliffe vowed to set a $100 gift cap on himself and his family, in response to the “gift gate” scandal that has embroiled Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The first-time office holder also said he will sign an executive order protecting gay, lesbian and transgender state workers from discrimination. That order would revive a policy of McDonnell’s Democrat predecessor, Tim Kaine.

Howell said McAuliffe’s non-discrimination order could be contested by lawmakers.

“I don’t believe he can do an ENDA run around the General Assembly by executive order,” Howell, a Falmouth Republican, said, referring to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, currently blocked in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Delegate Bob Marshall, R-Manassas, was more blunt.

“If we are going to have a governor who thinks he can unilaterally establish the public policies of the commonwealth, then we may have to confront his governance by Peter Pan policy props,” said Marshall, one of Virginia’s most conservative legislators.

It is unknown if Republicans will challenge an ENDA edict, which McAuliffe promises to sign when he takes office Jan. 14. But Howell cautioned that the new governor, elected with less than 50 percent of the vote, would be on even thinner ice by pushing more rules via executive order.

Citing court cases and a 2006 advisory opinion by then-Attorney General McDonnell, Howell said, “The governor’s power to issue executive orders comes from the Virginia Constitution, which states that the governor ‘shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.’”

According to McDonnell, “The governor may not legislate by executive order.”

Howell, a lawyer who leads a veto-proof majority of 67 Republicans in the 100-member House of Delegates, said McDonnell’s opinion “harmonizes” Virginia law that limits executive edicts, while leaving latitude to:

  • Those that pertain to matters where the governor has express constitutional authority.
  • Orders in the event of a genuine emergency.
  • Orders that are purely administrative in nature.

Tea party activist Reagan George said he doesn’t expect McAuliffe to over-step. Still, he’s watching.

“I think it is mostly about the money and influence with McAuliffe, but he still is a hard-core progressive,” George said from Fairfax.

Unlike President Barack Obama, who has signed numerous executive orders ranging from Obamacare tweaks to halting the deportation of illegals, McAuliffe likely will be less proactive, predicts one GOP lawmaker.

State Sen. Tom Garrett likens McAuliffe more to Bill Clinton than to Obama.

“Clinton had no core issues. It’s just ‘How do I win?’ The same goes for McAuliffe: ‘What do I do to be popular?’” the Louisa County Republican said.

Nonetheless, Garrett noted that the General Assembly is in session just 60 days each year, leaving 10 months for the commonwealth’s chief executive to have the run ofRichmond.

George has recommended that the Virginia Tea Party Federation form a group to monitor “influence peddling” at the Capitol.

McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy did not respond to Watchdog’s request for comment.

Kenric Ward is chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward