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Northam and Gillespie appear at inaugural Times-Mirror candidate forum

A crowd of about 100 gathered at Eddie Merlot’s steakhouse in One Loudoun for Saturday’s “Civil Conversations with the Next Governor,” hosted by the Times-Mirror. Times-Mirror/Chuck Moore
Gang violence, Virginia's economy and President Donald Trump were among the topics covered by the two major-party candidates for Virginia governor who took part in a forum hosted by the Loudoun Times-Mirror on Saturday.

“The next governor. Civil conversations.” was held at Eddie Merlot’s restaurant at One Loudoun in Ashburn. Candidates Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R) took turns answering questions in front of an audience of over 100 attendees.

The event came with just over three weeks before Election Day. Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states to hold a gubernatorial election this year, with Virginia the only race expected to be close.

Northam, the current lieutenant governor of Virginia, was the first candidate to speak.

The lieutenant governor began with an overview of his career, talking about how he served in the U.S. Army for eight years and set up a business as a child neurologist in Hampton Roads. He discussed his track record as Virginia's lieutenant governor working alongside Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Attorney General Mark Herring (D), the creation of over 200,000 jobs since 2013 and a drop in the unemployment rate from 5.4 percent to 3.8 percent.

Trump's plans to cut off subsidy payments to insurers selling Obamacare coverage was one of the first topics covered.

“Health care is a right,” Northam said. “Lets talk about what's good about the Affordable Care Act and what are the things we can do to make it better.”

He later added he would want his legacy as governor to be that all Virginians could access affordable health care, along with developing Virginia's workforce for the future and welcoming people from a diversity of backgrounds to the commonwealth.

Opening remarks from Times-Mirror Publisher Peter Arundel and Executive Editor Dale Peskin, following by Managing Editor Trevor Baratko's interview with Northam, the commonwealth's current lieutenant governor.



Ads run by Gillespie that attempt to link Northam's record to the gang MS-13 were denounced as "inaccurate and despicable" by the lieutenant governor.

Anyone who commits a dangerous crime should be locked up, Northam said, adding the ads promote fear mongering.

When asked what he would do to get rid of the scourge of gang violence, Northam said it is important to support local law enforcement and the state police. There are no sanctuary cities in Virginia, and Northam said that's a policy he wants to keep in place.

Northam also touched on gun violence and what legislation could be promoted to avoid a mass killing like the one in Las Vegas two weeks ago. Northam noted there are over 900 gun related deaths in Virginia every year.

“I believe in the Second Amendment,” he said. “I grew up hunting.”

But he said he wanted to see universal background checks passed as policy and questioned why assault weapons are needed.

“They are used for one thing, and that is for killing people. We used to have one gun a month in Virginia. Is there really a need for someone to buy more than one gun a month? It was repealed several years ago,” Northam added. “We need to take action.”

When it comes to governing philosophies, Northam gave examples of where governments should be involved and where they should do less. He spoke about how in 2008 he introduced legislation that was later passed banning smoking in restaurants.

“This is an example of where public policy can make things safer for Virginians,” he said.

In terms of government being overbearing, Northam spoke about lessening legislation for those who practice medicine and his belief that new cars should come with a three-year certificate, thereby doing away with the need for a yearly state inspection.

The economy was then addressed with Times-Mirror Managing Editor Trevor Baratko noting that Northam has been accused of not having a tax plan.

“Our economy in Virginia is doing well, despite what you hear from some people,” Northam said. He went on to talk about taxes and how he wants to bring together people from both sides of the aisle who understand the tax code to work on a comprehensive tax program.

He criticized Gillespie's tax plan as being one of the main differences between the two candidates, saying it would put a $1.4 billion hole in the state budget.

He underscored that he's been in Richmond for 10 years and knows how to get legislation passed.

When asked to pay Gillespie a compliment, Northam said “He is a nice human being and has good intentions.”

Northam then fielded questions submitted by the audience, including how he would deal with Metro funding. He spoke about Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia coming together to find a dedicated source of revenue that will support Metro.

One audience question was: “Where in Virginia's founding documents and laws are we told health care is a right?”

Northam said it wasn't necessary to look at laws, it's just about “being a human being.”

Northam spoke about getting rid of gerrymandering and said he would not approve a map if it was not drawn fairly.

Questioned whether he would work with the Trump administration, Northam said there were areas where he would be glad to work with the president, such as building up the military.

“I'm all about it,” he said.

He added he agreed with Trump on avoiding a government shutdown but when it came to policies he saw as detrimental to Virginia like travel bans, “I will stand up and do what's best in the interests of Virginia,” he said.

Gillespie took the floor for the second hour of of the events, answering questions posed by Loudoun Times-Mirror Executive Editor Dale Peskin.

Gillespie was asked to give the reasons why he decided to run. He introduced himself as a Fairfax County resident who knows the challenges faced in the area such as transportation issues.

“I feel called to serve. I know I can serve my fellow Virginians,” Gillespie said.

He spoke of being a son of an immigrant who came from Ireland as a child. Gillespie's grandfather was a janitor in Philadelphia, and his parents had a grocery store.

He was the first generation of his family to go to college and spoke about working his way up from a Senate car parking lot attendant to serving “as a counselor to the President of the United States of America.”

“I worry we are losing that kind of economic opportunity and upward mobility,” Gillespie said.

This generation could be the first generation not doing as well as the one before us, he said. More opportunities for economic growth are needed, Gillespie added, citing the statistic that Virginia was 39th out of 50 states for economic growth last year, with a growth rate of 0.6 percent.

When asked what difference a governor could make, Gillespie spoke about how he has already worked with members of the General Assembly to set up nine different policy working groups, getting input from people from all over Virginia.

“We need a strong governor with a vision for Virginia,” he said, adding his view that Virginia's economic environment is stuck. Gillespie went on to tout 19 policy proposals outlined on his website.

Gillespie said Virginia's policies are outdated, and he believes there isn't enough attention paid to growing businesses that are already here. Instead, there's only emphasis on landing the huge, well-known companies, naming Amazon as an example.

Peskin interviews Gillespie, a former lobbyist and Republican National Committee chairman.



Word association was also put before Gillespie. He said “good guy, wrong on policy” when Northam's name was mentioned and “president” in association with Donald Trump.

Loudoun County was then up for discussion. Gillespie spoke about smart growth, supporting conservation policies and appointing a “mayors and chairs” advisory panels. Managing growth, but protecting natural resources and beauty were important, he said.

MS-13 and the ads levied against Northam, what Peskin called the “ugliest part” of the campaign, was the next topic put to Gillespie, who said he thought the ads were fair.

Northam bragged about the particular vote in the primary, Gillespie said.

“Ralph Northam cast the tie-breaking vote against a bill in the state Senate against a bill to crack down on sanctuary cities,” he added.

Gillespie continued to cite what he said was Northam's reluctance to say whether he would sign a bill banning sanctuary cities if a number of cities or counties declared themselves as such.

Both candidates have correctly stated there are currently no sanctuary cities in Virginia.

Gillespie added he believes so called “dreamers” shouldn't be deported.

The last moderator's question centered on whether Trump's anti-establishment “drain the swamp” approach was good or bad for Gillespie.

Twenty percent of every dollar in our economy goes direct to the federal government, Gillespie said. More transportation dollars in D.C. should be spent in Virginia he added. He went on to say how essential it is for a governor to have a good working relationship with the president.

“I will work with the president to keep Norfolk the biggest naval base in the world,” he said. He also said he disagreed with proposals to cut funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup.

The bottom line is as governor, “It will not be my job to be always for or against President Trump, I will always be for Virginia,” Gillespie said.


On health care, Gillespie said it was necessary to expand access to affordable health care, but he also said Washington D.C. couldn't be counted upon to solve problems in Virginia. He said there should be more competition in the health insurance market and talked about a policy he has put together that would allow insurance firms to compete along state lines.

Gillespie was asked if he believed the government should be able to dictate policy in the area of abortion.

“I am pro-life, I am opposed to abortion with exceptions, for cases involving rape, incest or if the life of the mother is in danger,” he said.

The last question was how Gillespie plans to work with those who disagree with him.

“I pride myself in listening to people,” Gillespie said. He added he had incorporated into his plan ideas from folks on the other side of aisle. “If I think it will benefit all Virginians and be good for Virginia I don't care where it comes from,” he said.


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