RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe doled out some of Virginia’s juiciest political plums to seven current or former administration officials and two of their wives on Friday, appointing them to boards overseeing state colleges and universities.
It is not uncommon for governors to reward top donors and political allies with Board of Visitors seats, an unpaid but prestigious perch in the state’s highly regarded state university system. But McAuliffe (D) raised Republican eyebrows by unveiling so many administration-linked appointees at once, in his last round of Board of Visitors picks before he leaves office in January.
Some of the complaints centered on McAuliffe’s selection of three current cabinet members, who by law cannot begin serving while they are state employees. McAuliffe made those appointments effective January 13, the day he leaves office, instead of July 1, when the others begin their four-year terms. Republicans said the delay would wind up robbing the next governor of the chance to fill those seats.
“These BOV appts are pure political patronage,” Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) tweeted. “Unfortunate step back in efforts to improve governance in higher ed.”
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy called Republican objections “shrill partisan attacks” that “do not change the fact that these individuals are qualified to contribute to these universities and the best system of higher education in the nation.”
Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly has the power and, at times, the inclination to unseat McAuliffe’s appointees — most notably in 2016, when it ousted Jane Marum Roush, the governor’s recess pick for the state Supreme Court. The legislature will vote on his Board of Visitors selections when it reconvenes in January.
On Friday, McAuliffe appointed 53 people to various higher education boards. Among them were three current cabinet secretaries: Suzette P. Denslow, McAuliffe’s deputy chief of staff, to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia; Todd Haymore, secretary of commerce and trade, to the Virginia Commonwealth University board; and Transportation Secretary Aubrey L. Layne, Jr, to the Old Dominion University board.
Two spouses of current secretaries: Layne’s wife, Peggy A. Layne, to the state board for community colleges; Karyn Moran, the wife of Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, to the Radford University board.
Four former administration officials: Former commerce secretary Maurice Jones to the University of Virginia board; Lincoln Saunders, former chief of staff to first lady Dorothy McAuliffe (and now chief of staff to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, McAuliffe’s former secretary of the commonwealth), to The College of William and Mary board; Anna Healy James, McAuliffe’s former policy director, to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University board; and Gregory Whirley Sr., who briefly served as McAuliffe’s transportation commissioner as a hold-over from the administration of Robert F. McDonnell (R), to the Virginia State University Board.
Jerry Kilgore, a former Republican state attorney general who has been active in higher education, said he was concerned about the three slots that went to current cabinet members because Denslow, Haymore and Layne will not take the positions until January.
Kilgore said the delayed effective date means that for those three, the four-year appointments would expire in January 2022 — as McAuliffe’s successor leaves office — instead of June 30, 2021. Kilgore said that timing would prevent the next governor from filling those slots before his term is up. Virginia’s constitution prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms.
“The question arises with the delayed appointments because it looks as if the governor is taking those appointments away from the next governor,” said Kilgore, the former chairman of the Virginia Commission on Higher Education Board Appointments. “And the General Assembly will consider that issue when they’re asked to confirm these appointments.”
Coy said for two of the current cabinet secretaries — Haymore and Layne — he is certain that will not be the case. He said their start dates will be delayed until Jan. 13, but their terms will end along with the other appointees on June 30, 2021.
“Todd and Aubrey are voluntarily delaying the start of their BOV service,” Coy said. “That will not extend their term. The current spot holder will continue to serve in the interim. ”
But Coy said he was not sure if the same timing would apply to Denslow, leaving open the possibility that her term could be extended until January 2022.
Governors have made waves before with Board of Visitors appointees. In 1998, then-governor James S. Gilmore III (R) named the wealthy son of televangelist Pat Roberson to U-Va.’s governing board.
In 2015, McAuliffe gave a U-Va. slot to Jeffrey C. Walker, a New York philanthropist who donated $50,000 in two installments to McAuliffe’s 2013 campaign. Walker’s second $25,000 donation came soon after he and other key alumni spoke with McAuliffe about issues at the flagship university — and soon after the candidate updated his higher education platform to reflect some of the alumni’s ideas, The Washington Post reported at the time.