Sharp Words Fly in Lieutenant Governor Debate in Richmond

Virginia lieutenant governor candidates Justin Fairfax and Jill Vogel offered clear distinctions on gun control, the minimum wage and other issues during a debate Thursday that often featured sharp exchanges accusing each other of low-road campaigning. 

Neither Fairfax, a Democrat, nor Vogel, a Republican, held back in their second and final debate at the University of Richmond. 

The debate began with a discussion on guns in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Vogel said it's too early to know what lessons can be drawn from the massacre in Nevada. 

"I'm not running for lieutenant governor to take anyone's rights away,'' she said. "If you restrict people's gun rights, it does violate the Constitution.'' 

Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, said the Vegas shooting, which left 58 dead and nearly 500 wounded, makes clear that measures like an assault weapon ban and universal background checks are overdue. 

"If we can't do it in the wake of someone who shot upwards of 600 people, then we never will,'' he said. 

Both candidates accused the other of negative campaigning. Fairfax said Vogel keeps "going in the gutter'' by suggesting that he does not fully understand pieces of legislation or aspects of state government. 

Vogel, a state senator from Fauquier County, accused Fairfax of engaging in a "cheap, partisan ploy'' by attacking her for her 2012 sponsorship of abortion legislation that would have required women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion. The way the legislation was initially drafted would have required most women to undergo an invasive form of the ultrasound procedure, and Vogel withdrew the legislation after it became a rallying point for abortion rights activists and the butt of jokes by late-night comedians. Vogel has said Fairfax is misrepresenting her bill's intent and other issues are more relevant to the campaign. 

Fairfax countered: "Apparently the entire Commonwealth of Virginia can't understand the legislation because they all had the same view of what the effect of your bill would be.'' 

The candidates differed on increasing the minimum wage, with Vogel opposing any increase, and Fairfax supporting a rise over time to $15 an hour. 

Vogel on multiple occasions touted bipartisan credentials and her willingness to buck her party on issues like redistricting reform. She said her experience in the State Senate, which is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, has taught her that nothing can be accomplished without bipartisan support. 

Fairfax, on the other hand, painted Vogel as a supporter of President Donald Trump who recently has added members of Trump's campaign team to her own campaign.

Vogel said Fairfax is out of step even with his fellow Democratic candidates in his opposition to proposals for natural gas pipelines that would stretch across the state and on health care, where Fairfax indicated on a candidate questionnaire that he supports a "Medicare for All'' proposal by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders that Vogel characterized as single-payer, government-run health care. 

Fairfax said the real health care issue facing Virginia is whether to expand the state's Medicaid program to cover an additional 400,000 Virginians. Fairfax supports the expansion, which would be paid for primarily with federal dollars. Vogel opposes expansion, saying the federal government is an unreliable funding partner and that Medicaid expansion could break the state's budget even if the federal money comes through. 

The debate was sponsored by the Virginia Bar Association.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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