Gillespie, Northam outline plans for Virginia
Gubernatorial candidates answer questions about several key issues
RICHMOND — After many months of campaigning, the Virginia gubernatorial race will come to an end when voters head to the polls on Tuesday to vote for either Democrat Ralph Northam or Republican Ed Gillespie.
Northam is the current Lt. Gov., and was formerly a physician before embarking on a political career, starting with the Virginia State Senate in 2007. He is also an Army Veteran.
Gillespie is a former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and is also a founding member of the lobbying firm Quinn, Gillespie, and Associates. He was later a counselor to President George W. Bush.
Both candidates sat down with the Progress-Index staff to answer several questions about the race, and their stances on several issues.
On a larger scale, the Virginia gubernatorial race - which is the only competitive state governor’s race in the country this year - is being billed as a referendum of sorts on President Donald Trump’s policies. Both candidates had different responses to this.
“I think it’s twofold,” said Northam. “One, voters want someone who will stand up to Washington, and two, someone who will take Virginia to the next level. There’s a lot of people paying attention to what’s going in Washington, and it started with the campaign that was run in 2016 (Trump’s) that
was based on a lot of bigotry, discrimination and fear. And now we’re seeing policies that are coming out of Washington that are bothersome to this country, to Americans, and certainly to Virginians.
“Things like the Muslim ban, the reversal of DACA, pulling out of the Paris accords (the global warming agreement), defunding Planned Parenthood, and now most recently with the healthcare-putting a plan on the table that puts up to 30 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage, so yes it is about someone standing up to the detrimental policies coming out of Washington.”
Gillespie - who critics have pointed out has declined to align himself with the President -offered a different take.
“I’m on the campaign trail everyday, and what Virginians want to know is what are you doing about jobs, what are you doing about the economy, schools, transportation and addressing this awful heroin and opioid epidemic, and that’s what the voters of Virginia are focused on,” he said. “I know that because we’re one of only two governor’s races, and a very competitive one, that the national media is focused on national issues, but the voters themselves, they’re focused on these policies that I’ve put forward.”
Both candidates also talked about recruiting new teachers, as many Virginia school districts, including Petersburg, currently have a teacher shortage.
Both candidates have plans on restructuring the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that all Virginia students in public schools are required to take.
“I’m very open to look at what we’re measuring, and how we’re measuring it,” said Gillespie. “In addition to measuring where students are, we need to see how we’re doing inside those schools. Measurements of growth are important as well.”
But Gillespie differs on the issue with Northam in that Northamthinks a more drastic overhaul is needed.
“The SOL system was designed with good intentions, but what bothers me about it is that it’s teaching our children how to take multiple choice tests,”said Northam. “We really need to teach our children to think creatively.”
Gillespie calls his education plan T.I.M.E, standing for Teacher leadership, Innovation, More opportunities and Excellence. This includes a focus on “closing the achievement gap.”
“We see this huge gap in proficiency scores for schools in low-income areas versus schools in high-income areas: we’ve got to close that gap,” said Gillespie. “I’ve put forward a plan to cut the achievement gap in half over the course of a decade.”
Gillespie also talked about integrating more entrepreneurship skills into schools’ curriculum, and working more closely with the private sector to improve school districts.
“Government has a critically important role in addressing these challenges we face, but so does the private sector,” he said.
Gillespie is also an advocate for public charter schools, of which Virginia only has 9.
‘We should make it easier for parents to have that option,” he said.
Northam’s platformfeatures the G3 Plan, which stands for “Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back.” Under this plan, young students would go to community college for free to learn a certain trade or skill, and would pay it back in the form of public service after they get educated.
“That will allow students to get educated, become certified and have a skill,” said Northam. “And it will allow them to do that without incurring any debt.”
Northam, an Army Veteran, said the G3 plan is based off a similar concept of getting educated, then giving back.
For K-12 education, Northam plans on making kindergarten and pre-kindergarten more available.
“A lot of people ask why pre-k is important, but it’s about giving everybody the same opportunity, and getting our children off to a good start,” he said. “I remind people all the time that if one family has the means to send their child to pre-k, and another family does not, that is what starts the gap.”
“We need to foster opportunity here, and upward mobility, and improve our roads and public schools. I’m not running to be governor of the commonwealth for the title, I want to do a lot of things.” And all those things entail making life better for all Virginians.” Ed Gillespie
Both candidates talked about their plans for growing the economy. Petersburg, as well as surrounding localities like Hopewell, have become popular destinations for small businesses. Gillespie and Northam have put forth plans to focus on harnessing these sorts of businesses.
Northam said a large part of his economic plan involves growing smaller businesses, saying he wants to expand the resources available to entrepreneurs like grant programs.
“I believe in investing in Virginians and when we do that, no one can beat us,” said Northam. “Small businesses, those are the backbone of our economy. If we can help people start restaurants, small retail shops, that how we drive our economy.”
Northam said as governor, he would “streamline” the process of becoming a small business owner.
“When someone shows interest in being an entrepreneur, they have to be shown how to get capital, how to hire people, how to deal with the tax code.”
Northam also said making sure capital is available to Virginians would be a top priority.
“That’s one of the challenges we have,” he said. “There’s capital in places like New York and out west, but we need to make sure we have access to it in Virginia. I’ve had a lot of discussions on making that happen.”
Northam also talked about expanding accelerator programs like Go Virginia to aid new businesses.
Gillespie said his plan will focus on the “organic growth” of the Virginia economy.
“Rather than trying to recruiting companies to move here-which I’m all for, I’ll make a run at Amazon just like any other governor-but we also need for the next Amazon to be a Virginia company,” he said.
He talked at length about making it easier for small businesses to start and grow, with a greater focus on startups.
“We need to make it easier for start-ups and scale-ups to flourish in the Commonwealth,” he said. “I think for areas like Petersburg and the Shenandoah Valley, these are areas where small business formation and expansion is the key to economic opportunity.”
Gillespie said his policies will move away
from “whale hunting” to “growing our own whales.” Gillespie also said that he plans on encouraging localities to make local tax laws more business-friendly.
“We have a lot of local taxes that are a drag on small businesses,” he said. “I would work with our localities to find alternatives means of revenue.”
HEROIN AND OPIOID EPIDEMIC
The Tri-Cities area has felt the impact on the nationwide heroin and opioid epidemic. The entire region has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of overdoses over the past several years. In 2016, over 1,400 people died from overdoses in the Commonwealth. Both candidates plan on tackling the issue.
Gillespie’s plan says that addiction to opioids is a “disease, not a moral failing” and that “the prison system is not the appropriate venue to treat addiction.” Gillespie’s plan calls for more creative alternatives for treating addiction, and recognizing multiple pathways to recovery.
Northam said he will work with medical professionals to look at alternative ways to treat pain, as opposed to prescribing opioid painkillers, which is how many victims got addicted in the first place.
“We put so many resources into treating diseases that are preventable, like diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” said Northam. “We need to shift our resources to prevention, and that’s what I’ll do as we move forward.”
Both candidates have faced some backlash on several issues. The construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has drawn the ire of some Democrats in the Commonwealth who oppose it. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is a proposed underground pipeline that will carry fracked natural gas along a 600 mile route from West Virginia down to North Carolina. Led by energy companies Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, the project will cost approximately $5 billion dollars.
Gillespie supports the construction of the pipeline, saying in a statement that it is “critical to Virginia’s energy needs.”
Northam has faced criticism for also supporting the pipeline.
“If the pipeline is going to move forward, it has to be done environmentally responsibly, and has to be done with people’s land rights in mind,” said Northam. “I’ve said all along if our agencies in Virginia, the DEQ and Corps of Engineers, if they say it’s being done responsibly and with land rights in mind, then the pipeline will move forward.”
For Gillespie, he drew criticism for several television ads depicting the MS-13 gang, which is a gang mostly made up of immigrants from Central American countries like El Salvador and Honduras. Gillespie’s campaign came out with several controversial ads in September that depicted the gang, and sought to tie Northam’s policies to the threat of gang violence.
“We have a problem with surging gang violence, especially in Northern Virginia and in the Shenandoah Valley,” said Gillespie. “The Washington Post reported that there are 2,000 gang members in Northern Virginia, and 1,400 of them are MS-13.”
The Washington Post, however, later said that those numbers are just estimations.
Gillespie said he has put forth a plan for a gang task force, in an effort to stop the gang violence.
“There have been eight MS-13 related gang incidents since November [of 2016],” said Gillespie. “We’ve got to address it.”
Several critics, including the Northam campaign, deemed Gillespie’s ads as “fear mongering” in nature, and said the ad falsely accuses Northam of allowing illegal immigrants into Virginia.
The Virginia General Assembly did put forth a bill that would ban sanctuary cities - cities such asNew York and San Francisco that refuse to help detain and deport people who are in the country illegally - from Virginia. As Lt. Governor, Northam cast the deciding “no” vote after the General Assembly came to a tie. Gillespie’s ad, referencing House Bill 2000, said that Northam “cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities” when Virginia technically doesn’t have any sanctuary cities, and Northam’s vote didn’t create any sanctuary cities-it just prevented them from getting banned. Nonpartisan website factcheck.org called the attack “misleading.”
The summary of HB 2000 as passed reads: “Sanctuary policies prohibited. Provides that no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.”
“I supported legislation while in the state senate to make penalties tougher on gang-members,” said Northam. “I have always supported law enforcement.”
Gillespie said he welcomed people to go to his website, as well as Northam’s, and compare and contrast their policies, saying that if Virginians are making an informed decision, they will vote for him.
“We need to foster opportunity here, and upward mobility, and improve our roads and public schools. I’m not running to be governor of the commonwealth for the title, I want to do a lot of things,” he said. “And all those things entail making life better for all Virginians.”
Northam also encouraged voters to “look at our resumes,” and said that he has run an “inclusive and positive campaign.”
“I’ve been in public service all my life, serving in the Army, then taking care of families, and serving as Lieutenant Governor,” he said. “I would compare that to my opponent who was a Washington lobbyist. That’s his experience.”
The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 7. You can find your polling place on the website for the Virginia Department of Elections.
Libertarian candidate Cliff Hyra will also be on the ballot, in addition to Gillespie and Northam. John Adam may be reached at jadam@ progress-index.com or 804-722-5172.
“I’ve been in public service all my life, serving in the Army, then taking care of families, and serving as Lieutenant Governor. I would compare that to my opponent who was a Washington lobbyist. That’s his experience. Ralph Northam
Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie speaks with reporters in a campaign office in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 27.
Democratic candidate for Virginia governor Ralph Northam speaks to reporters at The Progress-Index building in Petersburg on Oct. 28.
[SCOTT P. YATES/ PROGRESS-INDEX.COM]
[SCOTT P. YATES/ PROGRESS-INDEX.COM]