In Praise of Two Great Public Servants

Stephen Moret

by James A. Bacon

Virginia has been blessed to have had many superb public servants over the years. They may not be remembered in the history books, which have a bias toward elected politicians, but we are reminded of the indispensable contributions of at least two of them in today’s news clippings. One is leaving to pursue his passion in workforce development. Another already left, but is returning part-time to help Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin bone up on fiscal and transportation issues.

Stephen Moret, president of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, made his most visible marks by spearheading the recruitment of the Amazon  HQ2 project to Arlington and restoring Virginia to the top of CNBC’s “Top States for Business” rankings. But he also has done yeoman’s work reinvigorating the once-moribund VEDP and building bridges between economic developers and educators. Central to Moret’s approach has been integrating economic development with workforce development.

He will leave Virginia to become CEO of Strada Education Network, a nonprofit with a mission of promoting upward mobility through education. The focus is on helping individuals, according to Strada’s website, “who face the most barriers to postsecondary education and training.” Growing up as the son of a single mother in Mississippi, he can relate to the challenges of people facing economic insecurity, he tells the Richmond Times Dispatch’s Michael Martz. Read Martz’ profile here.

Moret was a rare “deep thinker” in state government who pushed the boundaries of research. For instance, Bacon’s Rebellion recently highlighted some of VEDP’s research. Working in partnership with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, VEDP discovered that Virginia has begun experiencing a net outmigration of B.A.-educated workers in the prime employment ages between 25 and 54 years old. That’s exactly the kind of data-based analysis we need to understand our challenges and inform our public policy.

Presumably, Moret will be leaving Virginia for Indianapolis where Strada is headquartered.

Aubrey Layne

Fortunately for Virginia, when Aubrey Layne departed from his post as Secretary of Finance for the Northam administration a few months ago, he didn’t go far — he moved back to Hampton Roads to work as chief of staff for the Sentara health system. According to another article today by Martz, the RTD’s indispensable reporter, Layne has offered to spend one day a week during the transition to advise Youngkin on state budget issues.

Layne was the voice of fiscal sanity in an administration whose policy shop was dominated by free-spending progressives and in dealing with a legislature also dominated by free-spending progressives. Virginia has experienced unprecedented increases in spending and revenues during Northam’s three-and-a-half years in office, but it could have been so much worse. Layne insisted that one-time sources of revenue — such as federal COVID relief and temporary windfalls from federal tax policy — be steered to one-time expenditures rather than using it to underwrite the expansion of ongoing spending programs. Northam often deferred to his judgment.

A self-identified Republican before being recruited as Secretary of Transportation during the McAuliffe administration and then as Secretary of Finance under Northam, Layne likely will be comfortable working with the Red Team for a change. With a background in the private sector, Layne likes to talk about a concept that is alien to most politicians: risk. That’s the kind of language that Youngkin, an investment banker by trade, will readily appreciate. Layne is also appalled by inefficiency and redundancy in state government and may point out some targets of cost-cutting opportunity.

For the most part, the current administration has been a dumpster fire. What positive things Governor Ralph Northam did accomplish, he owes largely to these two men.