2017 Virginia Gubernatorial Forum Recap - September 7, 2017
On Thursday, September 7, 2017, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) hosted the 2017 Virginia Gubernatorial Forum at Virginia Union University (VUU). The purpose of this event was to facilitate a non-partisan discussion with Virginia’s two gubernatorial candidates, Ralph Northam (Democrat) and Ed Gillespie (Republican), about some of the specific issues affecting the African American communities of the Commonwealth of Virginia. This event drew a very large crowd to the Historic Coburn Hall of VUU. Community members, local and national organizations, students, faculty, and staff of the University, city leadership, and several other stakeholders turned out on Thursday evening to hear the gubernatorial candidates speak.
The discussion was moderated by Phillip Thompson, Esquire, who serves as the President of the Loudoun County Branch NAACP and Chair of the Virginia State Conference NAACP’s Criminal Justice Committee. Former Virginia Delegate Michael Futrell and current Vice Chairman of the Prince William County Republican Committee D. J. Jordan served as forum panelists.
Ralph Northam (D), who serves as Virginia’s current Lieutenant Governor and has had a long career as a Virginia Senator, pediatric neurologist, and Army veteran, was the first to speak at the podium.
Northam stated that as Governor of Virginia he would work harder for:
A livable, minimum wage
Access to high quality education for early education, K-12 education, and higher education
Revision of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, as “We should not be teaching our children to take multiple choice tests, we should be teaching them to think creatively.”
Access to healthcare, as “No individuals and no families should be denied the care they need…Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”
Elimination of the school-to-prison pipeline and the creation of a school-to-workforce pipeline
Restoration of rights
Below are the questions asked to Northam by the panelists and his responses to those questions.
“What issues do you see about the expansion of diversity in Virginia?”
Northam responded that Virginia is a diverse and inclusive community. “We welcome people to Virginia,” Northam said. “Our lights are on and our doors are open.” In reference to the tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of this year, Northam stated that “We do not condone hatred and bigotry in the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Northam explained that inclusivity starts with leadership, and noted that President Donald Trump’s failure to condemn and denounce white supremacy following the events in Charlottesville was a display of poor leadership.
“How will your administration expand and support the African American students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)?”
Northam answered that higher education is important and so are HBCUs. He acknowledged that funding for higher education has fallen short. However, he asserted that “Everyone should be able to live the American Dream” and that college should be affordable so that students can be prepared for 21st Century jobs.
“How will your administration address the plight of our inner city and rural schools?”
Northam shared his belief that every child should have access to a world class education system. “If we say we believe in the power of every child, then we need to put our money where our mouth is,” he said. Northam addressed the shortage of teachers, the low pay that teachers receive, and the large class sizes that have become characteristic of many public schools. “Teachers need to pay more for educating our children, and we should be able to retain these teachers,” he stated.
“How will your administration address the diversity of education, now that many African American parents are preferring to enroll their children in charter schools?”
Northam stated that the priority needs to be on public schools and building those schools up. “The inequality between schools highlights the gap between the haves and the have nots,” he said. “Equality of opportunity is important.
“How will you ensure access to a higher curriculum for students?”
Northam conveyed that instead of talking about white collar versus blue collar jobs, we need to talk about “new” collar jobs. “Access to the American Dream begins with early childhood education,” Northam stated. “We need to start talking to our children about their future.” He said that access to a higher income begins with improving the K-12 education system, revising the SOLs, and emphasizing the importance of vocational and skills training in addition to higher education. Northam also talked about his proposed G3 program, that would allow students to attend community college for two years for free and then integrate them immediately into the workforce.
“What will your administration do to ensure that children are taught the real history of slavery and discrimination in Virginia and the U.S.?”
Northam articulated the importance of inclusivity, reflection, and the necessity of being sensitive to people’s feelings. He expressed his belief that textbooks should tell the true stories of slavery and the stories of other heroes, such as Oliver Hill and Barbara Johns. He spoke about his desire to restore Fort Monroe, the place where slavery began and ended in Virginia, because that is a story that needs to be told. In reference to the current conflict over Confederate monuments in Virginia and other cities across the United States, Northam stated firmly that “The statues belong in a museum, not glaring down in our faces.”
“What would you do to support small women and minority-owned businesses in the Commonwealth?”
Northam noted the inequities that arise in the procurement of contracts. He expressed that his administration would work to ensure that there would be agencies to help level the playing field for these small businesses.
“What will your administration do about the unemployment rate of African Americans?”
Northam stated that he plans to improve the labor market, and that one of the main things his administration would address would be the pay gaps between women and minorities. Northam also reemphasized his proposed school-to-workforce pipeline, stating that reducing the struggle for higher education and funding Virginia’s colleges and universities for Virginia students will help students access the 21st Century jobs that are available.
“What will your administration do about the over-burdensome effect of criminal justice system on African Americans?”
Northam replied that criminal justice reform is very important to him as Virginia’s next governor. “The implicit bias of the system is not good,” he proclaimed. Northam expounded that criminal justice reform under his administration would include raising the larceny felony level from $200 to $500, decriminalizing marijuana (and looking into its possible medicinal purposes), and dismembering the school-prison-pipeline by allowing juveniles to remain in the community and receive mentorship and counseling instead of being thrust into the legal system and juvenile detention centers.
Ed Gillespie (R) came to the podium after the Lieutenant Governon took his leave. Gillespie is a small business owner who has served as a former top White House and Capitol Hill aide, former counselor to President George W. Bush, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and former chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.
Gillespie stated that as Governor of Virginia he would work harder for:
A higher minimum wage
The tearing down of barriers that block access to equal opportunities
Below are the questions asked to Gillespie by the panelists and his responses to those questions.
“What do you see as the specific areas and issues that should be addressed in our community?”
Gillespie replied that the unemployment rate in Virginia is a big issue. “Virginia is in a state of economic stagnation,” he said. He noted that the unemployment rate for African Americans in particular is double that of the rest of the population. Furthermore, Gillespie stated that access to quality education is important for ensuring equal opportunity. “Higher education is crucial,” he said.
“What policies will you implement to help single mothers in poor school districts?”
Gillespie emphasized the necessity of improving these schools, noting that we should be looking at the equality of opportunity rather than the equality of outcomes. Gillespie conveyed that attracting good quality teachers who reflect those who are being taught is essential. Gillespie also proposed challenging the school system by opening more public charter schools in Virginia that would be more responsive to children’s needs.
“How would you address the pushback that says you should fund public schools first?”
Gillespie clarified that his proposed charter schools would still be public schools. It simply allows parents to have greater choice.
“What will your administration do to reduce the fees associated with higher learning?”
Gillespie replied that controlling the increasing cost of higher education is a necessity. “We need to help the parents,” he said. “And we need to emphasize the value of a degree.” However, Gillespie acknowledged that not all schools can be treat all schools the same. “HBCUs have a crucial role,” he stated. He expressed the need to finance innovative programs to make college programs affordable.
“What is your plan to help the foster care system in Virginia?”
Gillespie pronounced that Virginia should be an “adoption-happy” state. The foster system affects over five thousand children in the Commonwealth. Gillespie proposed a collective impact model that involves greater partnership between the government and faith-based institutions. This model would allow for more children being moved into permanent placements, the reentry of prisoners, addiction and recovery assistance, and closure of the achievement gap.
“What will you do to address the history of African Americans in Virginia?”
Gillespie said that history has to be taught accurately. He explained that “Virginia has been at the forefront of American history, but not always on the good side of history.”
“What will you do to address mass incarceration?”
“Criminal justice reform is a priority for me,” Gillespie stated. “We need a fair, just, and redeeming criminal justice system.” Gillespie said that he does not believe in legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana due to the risks associated with it. However, he believes that the penalty for simple possession of marijuana is not in line with the offense. Gillespie proposes a “Three Strikes, You’re In” policy in response, which would keep individuals out of jail until the third time committing the offense. Gillespie also proposes increasing the felony larceny threshold to $500, noting that Texas, which he characterized as a “tough on crime state,” sets their felony crime threshold at $1,500. Gillespie also believes that formerly incarcerated individuals should be able to seek help about addictions and other matters from their probation and parole officers without having fear of further incarceration. Gillespie additionally supports the restoration of rights, stating that “I believe in redemption, reconciliation, and clemency.” However, Gillespie does not believe in blanket restoration, noting that legislation is needed to provide stability in the restoration of rights process.
“How will you keep Virginians safe from racial hate crimes?”
Gillespie stressed the need for a public safety plan, stating that “We need to learn from Charlottesville.” He described the events that unfolded in Charlottesville as not only a point of inflection, but also a point of reflection. He explained that the white supremacists that were in Charlottesville were in Virginia, but not from Virginia. “90% of them were from out-of-state,” he said. “They were here, but they are not us.” He described the alt-right as not existing on any political scale or continuum and having twisted and distorted mindsets. “If you believe that one race or one religion is superior to another, that is beyond immoral,” he remarked. “We are all God’s children and we are all created equal.”
“How do we address these Confederate symbols and hate crimes?”
In reference to statues and monuments, Gillespie stated that he believed the decision to keep them up or take them down should be at the local level, where it is easier to have the discussion. He noted that state action may exacerbate the tensions. “Putting them in historical context is the right approach,” he said. “Don’t take down, but don’t glorify, either. Promote healthy conversation.” Gillespie further noted that the cost of removal would be $10 million, commenting that, “There’s a lot more we could do with $10 million than removing the monuments.”
“What he would do to support small women and minority-owned businesses in the Commonwealth?”
Gillespie explained that there needs to be more contract transparency for women and minority business owners. He also stressed the need for such businesses to have workable goals.
The forum was described by Reverend Kevin Chandler, Chair of the Religious Affairs Committee of the NAACP, as “A great opportunity for the Gubernatorial candidates to discuss how their policies will impact voters and families in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Northam hopes to become Virginia’s next governor in order to build on the Commonwealth’s economic progress, defend the Virginia’s values against those who want to take Virginia back, and ensure that Virginia’s children have the same opportunities that he has had.
Gillespie hopes to become Virginia’s next governor to make sure that the American dream his family has experienced continues to be in reach for future generations.
Northam’s website is www.ralphnortham.com and he can be followed on Facebook (Ralph Northam) and on Twitter (@RalphNortham)
Gillespie’s websites are http://edforvirginia.com/ and http://forallvirginians.com/ (this site highlights Gillespie’s policy proposals). His campaign telephone is 1-804-340-6154 and he can be followed on Facebook (Edward W. Gillespie), Instagram (@EdWGillespie), and Twitter (@EdWGillespie).
Please note that the Voter Registration Deadline is Monday, October 16, 2017 and that the Deadline to Request an Absentee Ballot is Tuesday, October 31, 2017.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 7, 2017.
Visit www.VirginiaRegister2Vote.org for more information!