Democrat Ralph Northam, Republican Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Cliff Hyra (Courtesy of WRIC)
Democrat Ralph Northam, Republican Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Cliff Hyra (Courtesy of WRIC)

Three candidates seeking to replace Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe this fall may not agree on much, but each said the economy is the biggest issue facing state residents.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Informer, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie and Libertarian Cliff Hyra stated their case for Virginia’s highest office.

“As a doctor, you might imagine that I’m a pretty good listener,” said Northam, a former Army physician and senator who assumed his current office in 2014. “And I as travel the commonwealth on this campaign, the number one that I hear from folks is that they want a job they can support themselves and their families on.

“That’s not too much to ask for and it’s why I’m committed to ensuring that every Virginian has access to economic opportunity, no matter who they are, no matter where they live,” he said. “We’ve made significant economic progress over the last four years, bringing in over $16 billion in capital investment, creating over 210,000 jobs, and bringing our unemployment rate to a nine-year low from 5.4 to 3.8 percent.”

However, for the past six years, Virginia’s economic growth trailed the national average and, last year, the state saw a 0.6 percent economic growth, falling to 39th in the nation, said Gillespie, who once served as chair of the Republican National Committee and counselor to President George W. Bush.

“Hourly wage growth in Virginia is so sluggish that the commonwealth ranked 44th among states,” Gillespie said. “Further, S&P Global Ratings changed the outlook on Virginia’s status from stable to negative. That’s infuriating.”

Hyra, a lawyer running his first political campaign, said the biggest issue “is the number of obstacles the state places in the way of Virginians who are looking to improve their lives, and the resulting subpar economic performance of the commonwealth and lack of good, high paying, stable jobs.”

Taxes are too high, particularly on low levels of income, and a raft of inefficient business taxes and anti-competitive regulations discourage small business formation and expansion and render the commonwealth noncompetitive with other states and other countries, he said.

“Virginia’s antiquated and draconian drug laws and criminal justice system vacuum up billions of dollars in taxpayer money to ruin the lives of people struggling with substance abuse, who need our help and compassion,” Hyra said.

Poll Shows Tight Race

Two of the most recent polls show a very tight race.

One poll by the University of Mary Washington gave Northam a 5-point lead over Gillespie, with 44 percent of likely voters favoring Northam compared to 39 percent backing Gillespie, according to the statewide poll of likely voters conducted between Sept. 5 through 12.

The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

Hyra enjoyed the support of 3 percent of likely voters, with others undecided in the 1,000-person survey of Virginia adults.

Another poll by Suffolk University showed Northam and Gillespie tied with 42 percent support and 12 percent undecided.

Hyra had 3 percent support in the Suffolk poll as well, which officials conducted between Sept. 13-17 using live telephone interviews of 500 likely Virginia voters.

The poll has a margin of error plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

McAullife, can’t run for re-election because of term limits.

Each candidate weighed in on the violence in Charlottesville in August that stemmed from a white supremacist rally.

Northam said McAuliffe stepped up to provide not only Virginia, but the nation with tremendous leadership.

“I was proud to stand by him and Attorney General Mark Herring the day after this tragedy and to tell the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who descended on that town in no uncertain terms that their vile ideology has no place in this commonwealth,” he said. “We value inclusion and diversity; our doors are open and our lights are on in Virginia and that’s the message that I will continue to send as governor.”

What happened in Charlottesville was horrific and not just an inflection point in a discussion about history, Gillespie said.

“To me, it was a reflection point as well,” he said. “And I found myself thinking, ‘Why?’ Why are we so repulsed by what we were seeing? You have to think about it in terms of principles.

“The people that were in Charlottesville, those white supremacists, those neo-Nazis, those KKK, with their shields and insignia and their torches, spewing their vile and their hatred, they may have been in Virginia but they were not of Virginia,” he said, noting that 90 percent of them came from outside the commonwealth.

Hyra said he would engage local law enforcement agencies to be sure that they have an appropriate plan in place for any protest, a plan that keeps the protestors and counter-protestors away from each other and restricted to manageable areas.

“I would lend state support as needed. Protestors and counter-protestors should not be allowed to interact, and certainly never to engage in violent combat,” Hyra said. “Beyond that, I would avoid inflammatory rhetoric, and encourage swift and democratic resolution of such local issues, preferably with compromise solutions that are able to attract the support of a supermajority of residents, as opposed to divisive or polarizing decisions.”

Health Care Battle

With President Donald Trump likely to have some influence on the race, the candidates said they understand that the Affordable Care Act will continue to be high on the administration’s agenda.

“As a physician, I know there are some great things about the Affordable Care Act such as no more preexisting conditions and being able to keep your kids on your policy until they’re 26,” Northam said.

“It’s time for a bipartisan, public negotiation to stabilize and fix the Affordable Care Act. Right here in Virginia, it’s time to expand Medicaid and extend coverage to 400,000 working Virginians,” he said. “Every day that we don’t, we are not only leaving on the table but giving away to surrounding states that we compete with, close to $6 million a day. Since January of 2014 we have given away over $10 billion of the tax dollars that we send to Washington and we’ll never get it back. It’s the right thing to do.”

Virginia’s next governor will face significant challenges in healthcare and social services and Gillespie said he will turn those challenges into opportunities for reform and improved health outcomes for Virginians.

“This begins with recognizing that Washington, D.C., will not solve our problems. The Health and Human Resources Secretariat makes up more than 25 percent of Virginia’s biennial budget,” he said. “I will ensure Virginia works with our federal partners to remove barriers to permit Virginia to continue to lead the nation in innovative solutions to ensure those Virginians most in need receive a helping hand on the path to self-sufficiency.

In order to properly incentivize providers, patients and payers, I will advance Virginia as a health economics leader. This will properly compel state and private sector investments in areas that are most likely to bend the cost curve,” Gillespie said.

Hyra said he’d love to see changes to the ACA to facilitate cost control and access and encourage choice and competition.

“In Virginia, I would empower nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, and mid-level dental providers to practice according to the full scope of their education and training by rolling back arbitrary practice limit restrictions, loosen restrictions on telemedicine and medical care provided by accredited facilities out of state or out of the country, repeal the Certificate of Public Need regulations that prevent the opening of new medical facilities and have been proven to increase costs and lower access, and allow for the sale of health insurance across state and county lines to ensure that all Virginians have a wide range of policies to choose from,” Hyra said.

Best Candidate

While each pledged to tackle problems facing the state, including Northern Virginia, they wanted to be clear to differentiate what their candidacy could do for the commonwealth.

“[Gillespie] has demonstrated time and time again that he won’t stand up to Trump’s disastrous agenda, even when it harms Virginians,” Northam said. “I want to invest in Virginians by creating a pipeline of school to new collar jobs through workforce development and that’s why I’ve proposed my G3 plan to Get Skilled, Get a Job, and Give Back. It will give Virginians the opportunity to get a workforce credential or associate’s degree at no cost, with the understanding that they will give back one year of paid public service to the commonwealth in a high-demand or high-need area.”

Meanwhile, Gillespie said his vision for Virginia and the policies needed are clear.

“We are at a critical juncture and if our next governor doesn’t respond to the challenges we face with a sense of urgency, we will fail our fellow Virginians,” he said. “I have that sense of urgency, and I will not fail us.

“I have put forward detailed policy proposals on the most pressing challenges facing Virginians including plans to, provide tax relief, reform the mental health system, improve our K-12 and higher education system, and reform the criminal justice system,” Gillespie said.

Hyra declared that he’s the only candidate to tear down all barriers to success – economic and the criminal and educational systems.

“The other candidates are not proposing meaningful tax relief for the average family, nor policies to enable nonviolent offenders to reunite with their families and obtain stable high-paying jobs,” Hyra said. “I am not beholden to either of the old political parties or to any corporate interest. I have a perspective the other candidates lack – I am in the middle of my career, running a small business and raising my four children.

“I understand what it is like to be raising a family here, to run a business here, to be a young person in Virginia today,” he said.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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