EDITOR’S NOTE: Virginians have a few days left to vote for the commonwealth’s statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Seven candidates for those seats — gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, Glenn Youngkin and Princess Blanding; lieutenant governor candidates Haya Ayala and Winsome Sears, and attorney general candidates Mark Herring and Jason Miyares — sat for conversations with WTOP’s Nick Iannelli.
As is generally the case, there has been no shortage of attacks in the Virginia campaign, and no shortage of places to find out about them. Some of that is fair game and important to know; some of it, not so much; some of it isn’t true. What we’ve done here is keep phrases such as “my opponent wants …” and “my opponent says …” to an absolute minimum. You’re getting the candidates’ views on themselves, what they would do in office and why they want to do it.
Terry McAuliffe’s pitch to be elected governor of Virginia is a simple one: “I did it before; we’ll do it again.”
McAuliffe is aiming to be the first governor in modern Virginia to be reelected to the office after sitting out at least one term, as required by the state constitution, and in an interview with WTOP’s Nick Iannelli, he leaned heavily on his record in Richmond from 2014 to 2018 in explaining why he deserves another term.
The statistics came in waves from the quick-talking McAuliffe: 200,000 jobs created, while “personal income went up 14%” and “unemployment dropped in every city and county in the Commonwealth of Virginia.” He touted expanded access to health care and the beginning of the process of restoration of voting rights to felons who have finished their sentences.
“I leaned in on the big issues,” McAuliffe said, and referred to the issues section of his website for “20 major plans” for Virginia, taking pains to mention a proposal whereby “If you’ll teach for five years in Virginia, we’ll pay your room, board and tuition in any college or university here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We’ve got to invest in our teachers; they’ve been the heroes through this COVID crisis.”
McAuliffe said he began his term with “a $2.4 billion deficit in the budget that was left for me” by predecessor Bob McDonnell. (PolitiFact rated that claim False in 2015, allowing that the situation was complicated — essentially, McDonnell left McAuliffe a balanced budget document, but revenues didn’t come in like he or McDonnell predicted. This year, PolitiFact rated the claim Pants On Fire, saying McAuliffe “should know better” six years later.)
The race for the Virginia governor’s mansion has generated a lot of attention nationwide, often over cultural issues. And while McAuliffe wasn’t shy about attacking his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, he repeatedly returned the discussion to economic impact.
The battle over abortion rights, intensified nationwide since the passage and signing of a law in Texas that essentially bans the constitutionally protected procedure, is not only “dangerous for women,” but “crippling to the Virginia economy,” McAuliffe said. Pointing to the negotiations that resulted in the high-profile business expansions and relocations, such as Amazon, Nestle and Microsoft, McAuliffe said, “They’ve all got anti-discrimination clauses in their site-selection process. So we don’t want to go back.”
He made a similar argument about mandates for masks and COVID-19 vaccinations.
“There are not good reasons not to be vaccinated. I want every teacher, doctor and nurse to be vaccinated,” McAuliffe said.
He pointed to the COVID-19 situation in Florida and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ hands-off attitude toward masks and vaccine mandates (though he has sporadically encouraged voluntary vaccination). “Do you really, as a parent, want to send your 7-year-old child to first grade and that teacher is not vaccinated and is not wearing a mask?,” McAuliffe said. “Today, 225,000 children are in quarantine in Florida; 82 teachers are dead. And the death rate of children has doubled. We don’t want that.”
“I mean, people are back wearing masks, let’s be clear, because of those that are unvaccinated,” McAuliffe said, adding, “It affects business, and it affects supply lines. … You’re not bringing a business to a community that has a high infection rate and a low vaccination rate. They’re not going to come to your community.”
Right to work, sick leave
Virginia’s “right to work” law, which allows workers to forgo paying union dues while still guaranteeing them the rights that unions win for members, came up in both debates, and McAuliffe brushed off a question about repealing it.
The idea of repealing the law “can’t even get a hearing in the Senate, and finally in a very Democratic house, it was defeated 85 to 12,” McAuliffe said. “Right to work’s not changing … I focus on things I can get done.”
He proposed a raise in the Virginia minimum wage to $15 by 2024; paid family medical leave and paid sick days.
“Forty percent of our citizens don’t have paid day off if they’re sick,” McAuliffe said, adding, “If you’ve got someone who has COVID or a bad flu or whatever, do you really want them coming into the workforce and infecting all your other employees? But for so many Virginians, they cannot afford not to go in.”
A close election
The polling in the race has been a lot closer than originally predicted, but McAuliffe said he wasn’t surprised.
He called former President Donald Trump, to whom he has tried to tie Youngkin, “a major driver of Democratic turnout for the last four years, not only here in Virginia but across the country.”
Without Trump on the ballot, the numbers are tight, but McAuliffe said, “They’re always close here; you got to remember, this is an off-year. No federal candidates, no president on the ballot.”
McAuliffe’s most controversial quote in the campaign is most likely “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” said in response to claims from Republicans calling for so-called “critical race theory” (a concept taught in law schools that examines the role of racism in shaping legal systems in the U.S.) to be banned from K-12 education.
The former governor didn’t address the quote directly when asked about it, instead saying “Parents are very happy with me” and pointing to a Fox poll that showed him with a 10-point lead among parents.
“When I was governor, as you know, I put a billion dollars into education,” McAuliffe added. “I got tens of thousands of children pre-K. I got rid of five SOLs — we had way too many tests — and 13 million more meals served to needy children.”
McAuliffe touted endorsements from Republicans and conservatives, such as longtime editor Bill Kristol and former Rep. Dave Ramadan, saying, “I’m trying to unite people. As I say that’s why so many Republicans have endorsed me, because I bring people together …”
“I am fired up to take Virginia to the next level.”