Fo­cus of GOP can­di­dates on econ­omy, reg­u­la­tions

Aim to keep jobs out of North Carolina, in state

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY SARAH RANKIN

WIL­LIAMS­BURG, VA. | The four Repub­li­can can­di­dates for Vir­ginia gov­er­nor promised Fri­day to jump-start the state’s lack­lus­ter eco­nomic growth, gen­er­ally agree­ing with one an­other in call­ing for re­duc­ing reg­u­la­tions and cut­ting taxes.

Rep. Rob Wittman, Prince Wil­liam Board of Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Corey Ste­wart, state Sen. Frank Wag­ner and for­mer RNC Chair­man Ed Gillespie spoke to a crowd of busi­ness lead­ers and pub­lic pol­icy of­fi­cials at an eco­nomic fo­rum in Wil­liams­burg hosted by the Vir­ginia Cham­ber Foun­da­tion.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the only Demo­cratic can­di­date, ad­dressed the group at a dif­fer­ent event ear­lier in the day.

All four Repub­li­cans fo­cused on the econ­omy in their brief speeches, which came af­ter the re­lease of the 2016 State of the Com­mon­wealth by Old Do­min­ion Univer­sity, which found that while the state’s econ­omy has im­proved since the end of the Great Re­ces­sion, it hasn’t kept pace with growth na­tion­ally and ap­pears to be de­cel­er­at­ing.

“We need to not just com­pete for new jobs but also ag­gres­sively work to keep com­pa­nies in Vir­ginia,” said Mr. Wittman, who ap­peared in a video filmed in Wash­ing­ton and added that reg­u­la­tions needed to be reined in to ben­e­fit busi­nesses.

He also called for “rein­vent­ing” the state’s ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem by equally em­pha­siz­ing ca­reer and tech­ni­cal ed­u­ca­tion.

Mr. Ste­wart, one of pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s ear­li­est and most brash sup­port­ers in Vir­ginia, em­pha­sized his record in Prince Wil­liam County, where he said house­hold in­come has in­creased dur­ing his ten­ure.

He said North Carolina had worked harder than Vir­ginia to im­prove its busi­ness cli­mate and was steal­ing jobs and new busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties. “North Carolina is eat­ing our lunch,” he said. Like Mr. Wittman, he said Vir­ginia couldn’t turn things around by only re­cruit­ing big busi­nesses and in­stead said the state needed to re­form taxes and in­vest in trans­porta­tion projects like widen­ing In­ter­state 81 to cre­ate new jobs.

Mr. Gillespie, who chal­lenged Sen. Mark Warner in 2014 and nar­rowly lost, said Vir­ginia wouldn’t solve its bud­get short­fall by “rais­ing taxes on hard­work­ing Vir­gini­ans.” A pol­ished po­lit­i­cal in­sider who en­dorsed Mr. Trump, but with muted en­thu­si­asm, Mr. Gillespie said he was op­ti­mistic that Mr. Trump’s elec­tion would turn “head­winds” from Wash­ing­ton into tail­winds.

Mr. Wag­ner, who spoke last, said that while all the can­di­dates had rec­og­nized that eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and job cre­ation was the No. 1 is­sue in Vir­ginia and across the na­tion, he’s the only can­di­date who’s “walked the walk.”

Mr. Wag­ner said that as a ship­yard owner he’d seen first­hand how oner­ous gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions can be.

“Long be­fore reg­u­la­tion was sexy, I un­der­stood what it was about,” he said.

Mr. Northam, who spoke in the morn­ing, joked that au­di­ence mem­bers would be hear­ing a lot later from the Repub­li­can can­di­dates about how poorly Vir­ginia’s econ­omy is do­ing.

“We have a lot to be proud of here in Vir­ginia,” Mr. Northam said, cit­ing the state’s low un­em­ploy­ment rate and a rank­ing by Forbes mag­a­zine this year as the sixth best state in the na­tion to do busi­ness.

He said North Carolina had lost “mil­lions and mil­lions” of dol­lars in busi­ness to Vir­ginia over its law lim­it­ing civil rights pro­tec­tions for LGBT peo­ple and re­quir­ing trans­gen­der peo­ple to use bath­rooms cor­re­spond­ing to their bi­o­log­i­cal sex.

“We need to con­tinue to be an in­clu­sive state. … As long as I’m in charge, that’s the way it’s go­ing to be in Vir­ginia,” Mr. Northam said.

None of the can­di­dates took ques­tions from the au­di­ence.

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