McAuliffe responds to critics

HARRISONBURG – Gov. Terry McAuliffe blasted legislative Republicans on Friday for their scorn and planned lawsuit in the two weeks since he announced an executive order restoring voting rights for ex-felons.

McAuliffe dismissed criticism from four Republican lawmakers who on Thursday told an audience in Front Royal that the immediate restoration of voting and other rights for ex-felons was too much, too fast. Delegates Todd Gilbert, of Woodstock; Michael Webert, of Marshall; Chris Collins, of Winchester; and Sen. Mark Obenshain, of Harrisonburg, lambasted McAuliffe for what they regarded as executive overreach and disregard for the long standing practices of previous governors, Democrat and Republican.

McAuliffe fired back during a brief question and answer session with reporters while he toured a craft brewery and sampled some of its products.

McAuliffe framed his decision to reinstate the ex-offenders’ rights as a moral imperative and legally sound.

“I did what I have the authority to do,” McAuliffe said of the executive order. “I have full clemency authority. I’m the only one who does in our constitution.

“I would ask the members to read the Virginia constitution so they can go get a refresher course on who has the authority to do what they have to do.”

McAuliffe said his action brought Virginia in to line with 40 states after more than a century of having some of the harshest rules in the nation pertaining to voting rights for ex-felons. The rules, McAuliffe said, were rooted in the state’s history of poll taxes, literacy tests and “horrible racial prejudice” aimed at blacks, who constitute a disproportionate percentage of the ex-felon population.

“Leave people alone,” McAuliffe said, directing his remarks to Republican lawmakers. “Help them grow. Provide jobs for them so they can provide for their families.”

He added: “I tell these folks quit complaining. How about going out and earning these people’s votes. You will never get it by attacking them.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or