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McAuliffe Works to Keep Spirits Up in Virginia's Growing Distillery Industry



In the thick of his last year as governor, Terry McAuliffe is still trying to visit all the craft breweries in the Commonwealth.

“I’m doing the best I can,” he says, noting that about two open every week.

But today he’s made a pit stop at Reservoir Distillery in Scott’s Addition to learn about bourbon, where owner Dave Cuttino tells him that the spirit was first made in Bourbon County around the time of the American Revolution.

“So if bourbon was made there before the Kentucky Constitution was signed in 1792. …” Cuttino says.

“Oh! It was Virginia,” McAuliffe says. “I can’t wait to use that.”

Promoting such Virginia craft spirits as Reservoir seems to be a labor of love for McAuliffe, but he’s quick to credit the industry for bringing tourism dollars, using local agricultural products and employing hundreds of people.

“It’s really an integrated business,” he says.

McAuliffe, who’s made Virginia business a priority, rattles off statistics about decreased unemployment and the jobs created on his watch.

It’s also one reason he’s spent the last few weeks on the offensive against President Donald Trump’s executive orders and policies.

“The folks here at this distillery, they don’t care who comes in this place, what their sexual orientation is or what religion they follow,” McAuliffe says. “They want them to saddle up to that bar and buy some of that great bourbon, plain and simple.”

It’s brought out a side of the governor, a Hillary Clinton friend and supporter, that wasn’t seen during the Obama years.

McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring were among the first officials to arrive at Dulles Airport on Jan. 28 after Trump signed an executive order that at first seemed to ban travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, regardless of their documentation status.

“I almost found this hard to believe, in the United States of America, we could detain anybody, let alone anybody with a U.S. passport, and detain them without access to counsel,” McAuliffe says. “This is abhorrent, immoral, wrong and unconstitutional.”

McAuliffe and Herring soon filed suit on behalf of Virginia — one of three federal court cases debating the merits of Trump’s order.

Concerns about constitutionality and security are foremost, says McAuliffe, worrying that the order is a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations abroad.

But the work he’s done for Virginia’s economy will suffer too, he says. He’s already had two people looking at sites for their businesses cancel on him recently.

“They weren’t from the seven countries, but they were Muslim,” McAuliffe says. “They just don’t want to come to America [right now], so they canceled.”

He likens the effect to a recent controversial law in North Carolina that regulated bathroom usage — and sent some businesses out of the state. It’s one of the many laws he threatened to veto when it was proposed in the Virginia General Assembly this session.

It fizzled, but he says he’ll still veto a large, last round of bills from the Republican-controlled legislature, such as ones that defund Planned Parenthood, regulate voting and deter cities from giving sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

“I’m going to have some doozies come across my desk,” McAuliffe says.

That desk is up for grabs come November. McAuliffe has endorsed Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the gubernatorial campaign that’s heating up.

“My point is just leave people alone,” McAuliffe says. “I focus on jobs every day, economic development. That’s what these folks want from their governor. They don’t want me getting in the weeds on social issues — they want me out selling.”

McAuliffe says he thinks he’s the most traveled governor in America, citing 22 trade missions to bring companies to Virginia and promote its products.

“That’s the kind of thing where the state has been extraordinarily helpful for us,” Cuttino says. “We’re very grateful for that.”

To that end, McAuliffe makes plans to bring the Kentucky governor some Virginia bourbon — to remind him where it was first made. S