Needing a breakthrough in his longshot campaign for governor, state Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, said Friday that he plans to call a legislative committee meeting to “barrage” Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration with questions over the governor’s plan to regulate carbon emissions from Virginia power plants.
Wagner said he’ll convene an emergency meeting of the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules, a General Assembly committee he chairs, within a few weeks to investigate the Democratic governor’s recent directive creating a state-level plan to combat climate change.
In an interview, Wagner said he hopes to call the committee meeting before Memorial Day weekend, just a few weeks ahead of the June 13 gubernatorial primary when he’ll face former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie and Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart.
Wagner said he wasn’t concerned that some might see the move as a use of legislative power to help his political campaign. He said he has a statutory duty to examine regulations that affect small businesses, adding “what people perceive is their own damn business.”
“Is there any good time or bad time?,” Wagner said. “When you’ve got something that’s this detrimental, the appropriate time is yesterday.”
McAuliffe announced Tuesday that he was ordering the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to draft state-level carbon regulations after President Donald Trump moved to undo the federal Clean Power Plan, a climate change initiative then-President Barack Obama championed. Environmentalists praised McAuliffe’s action as a bold move toward cleaner energy sources, while Republicans condemned it as an executive overreach that could hurt the economy and raise energy prices for consumers.
Responding to Wagner’s plans for a committee hearing, McAuliffe’s office said the administration would gladly answer questions about the governor’s use of his “lawful authority to direct his own agency heads.”
“This is election-year posturing,” said McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy. “The governor signed this to reduce hot air.”
Recent polls have shown Wagner trailing Gillespie and Stewart. Gillespie, a former political consultant who in 2014 nearly unseated U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., had 38 percent support among likely Republican voters in a recent Washington Post poll. Stewart was at 18 percent, Wagner drew 15 percent and 24 percent of respondents had no opinion.
Wagner, who has served in the General Assembly for 25 years, is pitching himself as the candidate with the most experience in the statehouse. Though Gillespie criticized McAuliffe’s carbon directive as “job-killing and cost-increasing” within a few hours of it becoming public Tuesday, Wagner suggested he’s the only candidate showing concern and said his opponents “probably don’t understand” the issue.
“It’s what happens when you have no experience in state government,” Wagner said.
Gillespie didn’t seem to take offense.
“Ed is glad to see Frank using his position in the state Senate to help push back against the governor’s overreach,” said Gillespie spokesman David Abrams.
The two Democrats running for governor – Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello – voiced support for McAuliffe’s directive. Democrats will also choose their nominee in a June 13 primary.