MCLEAN, Va. — The second debate between the candidates running for Virginia governor was dominated by their plans to improve the state’s economy, but in the wake of Charlottesville, race and the fates of the state’s many Confederate monuments were front and center.
During a civil but energetic debate, Republican Ed Gillespie and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, saved their sharpest words for the white supremacists whose Aug. 12 rally turned deadly.
Gillespie said such groups are not on any legitimate political spectrum, calling their “twisted mindset rooted in hate.”
He said such views are “evil we must reject. And as governor, I will.”
The comments are similar to statements he’s made in the wake of the violent confrontation.
Gillespie also reiterated his view that the statues erected in the decades after the Civil War should remain in place with proper historical context. He also called for more statues to newer public leaders like former Gov. Doug Wilder, the first black governor elected in any state.
Northam said such memorials allow groups like those who rallied in Charlottesville to “spew hatred and bigotry.” And although he would prefer local communities to decide their future, he said he would prefer they would be relocated to museums.
He said allowing communities to discuss what the statues and figures mean and what legacy they intended also gives the state a chance to breathe after last month’s violence.
Both candidates were running a tight race in the run up to the second of three debates in the 2017 contest, according to a set of polls released this week.
Northam led Gillespie in fundraising during the summer months and has an edge heading into the height of the campaign season.
The race is the first major election in the year since President Donald Trump was elected, and it is considered a national barometer of his presidency.
Northam said he was willing to work with Trump on expanding shipbuilding and protecting Naval Station Norfolk, and to end sequestration. But he tried to link his opponent to several of Trump’s policies that Northam attacked, including the travel ban and the end of an Obama-era program that allowed immigrants who were brought over illegally as children to stay and work.
“Pulling away from the Paris accord … Ed supports that as well — very detrimental to Virginia,” he said.
Gillespie has tried to sidestep Trump and run his own race. He told Republican voters that are still angry over the results of last November’s election to look at his policies — all 17 of them are detailed on his website. And he pledged to serve all Virginians if elected.
“I believe that when people in Northern Virginia look at my policies and how they will address our concerns — I’m from Northern Virginia; I know those concerns personally — they’ll find it easy to vote for me in November.”
Both men pledged to save Metro but neither is willing, at this point, to pony up more money for the ailing transit system. Neither would say whether they would take Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan up on his suggestion that all four jurisdictions — Maryland, Virginia, D.C. and the federal government — give the system an extra $500 million over the next four years to give leaders time to make systemic changes needed to improve governance, safety and reliability.
Gillespie, who said he rides Metro, called it critically important. “We need to save Metro.”
But also said, “I’m not willing to say at this point that Virginia should increase taxes to come up with that revenue.”
Both said they are hoping that former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s final report to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe provides answers on a path forward.
Although Northam said he won’t spend more money until the system’s challenges of safety and reliability are fixed, he said he would work with lawmakers in Richmond to make sure they understand how important Metro is, not just to Northern Virginia but to the whole state, comparing it to the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads.
Convincing state legislators — who have historically shied away from raising taxes to pay for transportation — will be a major hurdle for Virginia’s next governor.
Gillespie has attacked Northam for supporting a transportation package that pumped millions of new funding into state transportation programs, and gave Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area the ability to leverage some tax dollars for regional projects.
Stay with WTOP for updates on this developing story.
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