Virginia Democrats vying for a chance to become the state’s next governor sparred about racial justice, gun control, and pandemic recovery on the debate stage at Virginia State University on Tuesday evening.
The hour-long debate hosted six Democrat candidates including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Del. Lee Carter, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, all of whom used their first opportunity together to take political shots and try to set themselves apart from the “unusually large” number of left-leaning contenders to take over current Gov. Ralph Northam’s position.
McAuliffe took the early charge, often name-dropping Northam and promising to use his relationship with President Joe Biden to ensure he accomplishes the state’s goals. While the former governor used his experience to tout his record on issues such as fighting gun violence in the state with the “toughest domestic violence bill in the U.S.” supported by a “right-wing legislature,” McClellan was quick to criticize her fellow candidate for compromising on essential reforms to appease Republicans.
“We could have gone farther. We had the opportunity to require all Virginians with a concealed carry permit to comply with our requirements rather than allowing them to have concealed carry permits from states that have looser restrictions than we do. Our attorney general was on the right track to put us there, and Gov. McAuliffe made a deal that gave that away.”
Carroll Foy also accused the former governor of striking a “backroom deal with the NRA undermining concealed weapons laws in Virginia making us all less safe.”
In addition to bickering over gun control, candidates also quarreled about how to address racial issues such as propping up recovery efforts for black and minority businesses wrecked by government-mandated lockdowns and reforming the criminal justice and policing systems to better accommodate black communities.
“We have a racist criminal justice system. I have said this forever,” McAuliffe said, touting his record on restoring felons’ voting rights and investing funds in training police to handle situations such as the case of George Floyd.
Fairfax, however, used McAuliffe’s repeated time violations to shed light on the daily “disparities” that face people of color. Later in the debate, he brought up McAuliffe’s willingness to call for his resignation after a series of what he called “false” sexual assault allegations surfaced.
“He treated me like George Floyd. He treated me like Emmett Till. No due process. [He] immediately assumed my guilt,” Fairfax said, shortly after bragging that he was the one who recommended that Northam order schools to close for fears of COVID-19 spread.
Carter, one of the more progressive candidates and a gig worker, separated himself from the rest of the stage on racial issues by promising to facilitate race-based restoration through the creation of a marijuana tax that would fund “reparations for black and indigenous Virginians.”
“It won’t be 100 percent of what we need to atone for, but we have got to start making up for Virginia’s government’s complicity in some of the worst crimes in human history, from the transatlantic slave trade, the genocide of Native Americans, Jim Crow, and so on and so forth,” Carter said.
The Marine veteran and Lyft driver also highlighted how Virginia gig workers and those struggling with unemployment have been shorted by the government and overlooked for bigger companies such as Amazon.
“We have got to fundamentally rethink what economic development means in this commonwealth so that we are the ones making decisions about our economic future, not investors like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk,” Carter said.