Potts, others in the GOP support McAuliffe

Posted: October 9, 2013

The Winchester Star

Former GOP state Sen. H. Russell Potts speaks Tuesday afternoon at Rouss City Hall, where he announced his endorsement of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Former Republican state senators H. Russell Potts (from left) and John Chichester pose with State Corporation Commission head Clinton Miller and former state Sen. Brandon Bell, all of whom endorsed Democrat Terry McAuliffe for governor on Tuesday afternoon at Rouss City Hall. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Former state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. and several of his former General Assembly colleagues — all Republicans — have endorsed Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe.

Potts, of Winchester, hosted a press conference in the City Council chambers at Rouss City Hall on Tuesday. With him were John Chichester, who was Senate president pro tempore and chairman of the Finance Committee; former Del. Jim Dillard, who was chairman of the Education Committee; and former Sen. Brandon Bell.

Potts said he was hosting a reception for McAuliffe — who is running against Republican Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, in the Nov. 5 election — at his home on Tuesday night.

Chichester represented Stafford from 1978 until 2008, although he said he was a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in 1969, losing in the primary.

Dillard, a former educator who represented Fairfax County for one term in the 1970s, and again from 1980 until 2005, said he supports McAuliffe because “[He] sees education is an investment, whereas Cuccinelli sees it as an expense.”

“[Cuccinelli] has been a big supporter of vouchers and tuition tax credits, all of which are going to take money away from public education,” Dillard said.

Bell, who served in the state Senate in the 1990s and was again elected a decade ago, said he spent time on the Senate floor with Cuccinelli.

“I’ve got some concerns about where his priorities are going to be,” said Bell, of Roanoke. “I think above all, Terry’s priority’s going to be Virginia, and I think Ken’s priority is going to be whatever it takes for Ken to get on a conservative talk show, Fox News. It will be running for another office.”

Potts, who made an independent run for governor in 2005, said he felt the Republican Party had left him. He said McAuliffe would work with Democrats and Republicans.

“You govern in a bipartisan fashion,” Potts said. “It’s the only way you can be successful.

“I love Virginia so much I know that we would be headed down the wrong path with Ken Cuccinelli as our governor. What’s happening on Capitol Hill is a shining example of the importance of having a leader who understands how to bring people together and look for solutions,” Potts said.

With regard to McAuliffe not having prior legislative experience, Dillard said, “Neither did [Democrat Mark] Warner [now one of Virginia’s U.S. senators]. I think he was probably the best governor I served under.”

Regarding criticisms of McAuliffe’s business dealings, Bell said that isn’t unusual for an entrepreneur. “He took a risk. That’s what you do [as an entrepreneur]. If Terry McAuliffe created one job, that’s one job more than Ken Cuccinelli.”

Warner had his own business failings, Chichester said.

“Virtually any successful businessman that you will ever meet has had his share of failures,” Potts added.

The former lawmakers dismissed concerns that McAuliffe would try to get rid of Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state — which secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether to join or financially support a union.

Potts said McAuliffe understands the importance of that status, and Bell said no such bill would ever land on a governor’s desk.

The men lamented the extreme turn the GOP has taken in the past five years.

“It’s so tragic that the Republican Party insists on nominating these far-right candidates,” Dillard said.

He said extremist candidates are reaching the ballot via conventions and primaries during which a small portion of the party votes.

Chichester said the candidates are then beholden to a handful of party members.

“[In] 2009, the state party flipped,” Bell said. “Ken Cuccinelli saw that as a great opportunity.”

According to Anna Nix, his campaign press secretary, Cuccinelli has enjoyed “broad bipartisan support” in his gubernatorial campaign, including from a Democratic Richmond School Board member.

“Just this weekend, lifelong Democrat Page Snyder hosted a rally for Ken at her home in Prince William County,” she said via email on Tuesday night. “She’s supporting Ken because she knows he’s the only candidate who will approach every issue honestly and with conviction.

“While Terry McAuliffe doubles down on his one-dimensional, negative campaign, Ken Cuccinelli is squarely focused on the issues that matter most to Virginians: growing our economy, creating 58,000 new jobs and improving education for our children,” Nix said.

— Contact Sally Voth atsvoth@winchesterstar.com