Democratic Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, now running for governor in the upcoming November election, took his Republican counterpart Ed Gillespie to task for his association with unpopular GOP politicians to the north and south, in Washington, D.C. and in Richmond, in a head-to-head debate hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Tysons this Tuesday.
Gillespie centered his arguments on what he contended is the decline of the economy of Virginia under current Governor Terry McAuliffe. The decline, he said, is the single most important issue in the election.
That contrasted wildly with what Northam said are among the accomplishments of the McAuliffe administration which, he said, include bringing to Virginia “a record setting 215,000 new jobs, over $16 billion of capital investment, a decline in unemployment from 5.4 percent to 3.8 percent, the lowest in nine years, with wages and salaries up over 12 percent.”
Gillespie’s claims of a stagnant Virginia economy also ran afoul of Gov. McAuliffe himself, when asked to comment on Gillespie’s remarks at a public appearance in the City of Falls Church yesterday afternoon.
“Poor Ed, what’s he got to talk about?” McAuliffe quipped to the News-Press. “He served in the (former Governor Bob) McDonnell administration, and they weren’t able to do half of what we’ve done. So he has nothing to say, so he reverts to fake news,” McAuliffe said. “I deal in reality, he’s in a fantasy.”
Gillespie’s charge was that Virginia’s economic growth rate “for the past six years has been below the national GDP.”
But Northam contended Tuesday night that Virginia’s “in the midst of a technology revolution right here,” and, “It’s time for ignite Virginia with innovation, to create ecosystems that will support small businesses and startup companies.”
Gillespie was assailed with the behavior of his fellow Republicans in Washington, D.C. and Richmond. Asked if he’d invite President Trump to campaign for him, he said only, “I’ll take any help I can get.”
More pressing was his view of the GOP’s latest effort to repeal Obamacare in Congress, the so-called Cassidy-Graham bill that Northam charged would deny healthcare to 500,000 Virginians. Gillespie said first that Virginia should not be singled out for a penalty because it didn’t approve Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion incentive. But then he said emphatically that Obamacare needs to be repealed.
Then, more on the Washington angle, Gillespie is being subjected to criticism from the Northam camp for his history of Washington lobbyist ties to major D.C. corporations.
In terms of Richmond, Northam stated, “There are 120 bills that we [McAuliffe–ed] just vetoed over the last four years. It’s the largest number ever vetoed by a governor. And they were bills that discriminated against the LGBTQ community, they discriminated against immigrants, they discriminated against women’s access to reproductive care. We can’t go back. We need to look through the windshield.”
He added, “I would ask Mr. Gillespie to take a look at those 120 pieces of legislation, and I suspect you would have signed them. We can’t go back. We can’t be like the other states that you talk about up and down the east coast. This is Virginia. We’re proud and we’re inclusive.”
But Gillespie did not touch the comment about those 120 vetoes. Instead, he said, “I agree that this is Virginia, we’re proud and we’re inclusive. What I don’t agree with is that we’re doing great. I love this commonwealth. The reason I’m seeking the governorship is because I know we can do better and I truly believe that my policies will get us unstuck. This is what is at the center of this election.”
At a press conference after the one-hour debate, Northam responded to a question from the News-Press about what percentage of the 120 bills that McAuliffe vetoed would have become law if Gillespie were the governor. “120!” Northam exclaimed.
He paused and then noted that Gillespie did not respond to his challenge about those 120 vetoes in the debate, and said nothing about them.
Northam added that when it comes to bringing business and economic growth to Virginia, the one question that prospective businesses and corporations have is how socially inclusive the state is, and if those bills would have been allowed to become law, then Virginia would be worse off than North Carolina was when it passed discriminatory anti-transgender legislation.