McAuliffe focuses on education as he kicks off bid for Va. governorship

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, announces that he is running for the Democratic nomination for governor during a press conference in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. McAuliffe was joined by several backers, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, right. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced Wednesday that he’s running for his old job, and he told WTOP he’s making education a top priority during his campaign.

“I am calling for a record investment in education, because Virginia — we are 50th out of 50 states — we are dead last as it relates to teacher pay compared to average pay,” McAuliffe said. “If you live in Maryland, or go up to Pennsylvania or in Delaware, you make $10,000 to $20,000 more than a teacher in Virginia. I want to end that.”

McAuliffe also said he wanted to ensure that students had broader access to technology to access distance learning, as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen some students fall behind due to their lack of consistent internet access.

He said his former efforts to fund education in the commonwealth paid off and helped attract new businesses to Virginia, citing the deals with Amazon and Nestle to build headquarters in Arlington.

The former Virginia governor said he has plans to fund the increased spending on education, even as the state and the rest of the country face economic hardships because of the pandemic.

“We will have gaming revenue now, the legalization of marijuana; we also have a $163 billion biennial budget — I can certainly find $2 billion here to finally take care of our teachers,” McAuliffe said.

There have been calls in Virginia to bring in fresh faces to the Democratic Party, and many would like to see the first Black or woman governor in the commonwealth. McAuliffe said he is running his campaign with the support of prominent minority figures in Virginia’s Democratic Party.

“I’ve been recruited by many of the most prominent African Americans in the state to get in — because we’re in a very unique time because of COVID and how it will effect the job losses and how it affects everything else,” McAuliffe said. “I did it before so — I always think big, I always act boldly and I have the seasoned leadership skills, really, in this most difficult time to really take Virginia out and do the things that we need to get done.”

He said the setbacks put forth by the pandemic provide an opportunity to rebuild the commonwealth’s economy more equitably.

“COVID gives us that opportunity to build an all-inclusive economy, make Virginia the number one state in America, which is what I get up thinking about every day,” he added.

McAuliffe’s announcement was widely expected. The former Virginia governor served from 2014 to 2018.

He announced his election bid Wednesday during an event at a Richmond elementary school, with a focus on increased education spending if elected. “We do not have to limit ourselves to small-ball proposals,” McAuliffe said at the news conference.

A fundraising email was sent to supporters even before McAuliffe spoke Wednesday.

“To defeat COVID-19 and build an economy that truly works for all Virginians, we can’t just go back to business as usual,” the email reads. “We need to think big, be bold, and approach our challenges as never before if we’re going to move the Commonwealth forward. I’m running to be that bold leader.”

McAuliffe, once best known as a top Democratic money man and close friend of the Clintons, will enter an already crowded Democratic primary. Other announced candidates include state Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, either of whom would be the nation’s first African-American woman to lead a state. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax is also running.

Virginia’s race for governor will be one of the country’s marquee political contests next year, serving as a barometer of the public mood during President-elect Joe Biden’s first year in office.

By law, Virginia governors are limited to four-year terms that can’t be served consecutively. Only former Gov. Mills Godwin has served twice in the last century. Others who served nonconsecutive gubernatorial terms include Founding Father Patrick Henry and former President James Monroe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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