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FairfaxPoliticsCandidates stake out familiar positions in gubernatorial debate

Candidates stake out familiar positions in gubernatorial debate

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Locked in a tight race for governor, Republican Glenn Youngkin and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) traded barbs over COVID, abortion and the economy during a Sept. 28 forum at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

Youngkin assailed what he said were Virginia’s failing schools, rising crime rate, skyrocketing cost of living and struggling economy. He promised to eliminate the state’s grocery tax, double standard tax deductions, reduce job-killing regulations, fully fund police and reinvest in education.

McAuliffe touted his economic-development and job-creation efforts as governor, saying he had overcome a deficit left by his Republican predecessor and departed with a sizable surplus in Virginia’s coffers. He vowed to spend more on education, bring down the cost of health care and prescription drugs, raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour and advocate for paid sick days and family medical leave.

McAuliffe repeatedly invoked the name of Donald Trump and linked Youngkin to the former president.


“You’re running against me,” Youngkin said. “Let’s let Virginia voters decide who they want their next governor to be.”

The candidates disagreed on the pandemic and COVID vaccinations. Youngkin said he and his family had been vaccinated and he encouraged everyone to do likewise. He opposed mandating the vaccines and said McAuliffe wanted employers to fire employees who don’t get the vaccine.

“At a time when we are trying to come out of this pandemic . . . we need those health-care workers, we need people on the job,” Youngkin said. “To make their life difficult, that’s no way to go serve Virginians.”

McAuliffe countered that Virginia the previous day had recorded 8,000 new COVID cases and said Youngkin’s pandemic-policy views were “disqualifying” for him to be governor.

Responding to a follow-up question from Todd, Youngkin said COVID vaccines should not be mandated and were different from other shots given to prevent measles and rubella.

Asked about rising crime during his governorship, McAuliffe said he had invested in law enforcement and that Virginia had had the lowest crime rate of any major state. He favored getting firearms off the street and said his opponent would “roll back all common-sense gun protections.”

Youngkin said the murder rate had shot up 43 percent under McAuliffe’s tenure. The Republican touted his support from law-enforcement groups and said McAuliffe’s parole board, which he vowed to replace, had been too lenient on criminals.

Youngkin said he would invest in law enforcement and protect qualified immunity for officers. McAuliffe agreed with that last point, unless officers break the law.

Asked whether he favor a “pain-threshold” bill to ban abortions in the second trimester, Youngkin said yes and added he was pro-life, but favored exceptions to allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or when women’s lives were in danger.

McAuliffe said Youngkin had been caught on tape saying he would ban abortions and defund Planned Parenthood. McAuliffe said he supported existing abortion laws and had protected women’s clinics as governor.

The candidates disagreed over what to do with Virginia’s $2.6 billion budget surplus. McAuliffe said the surplus came from one-time American Rescue Plan Act money, then accused Youngkin of “chiseling Fairfax County out of $75,000 per year” by obtaining an agricultural exemption for keeping “fancy horses” on his property.

Youngkin attributed the state’s surplus to over-taxation and said Virginia was growing slower economically than surrounding states.

On transgender bathrooms in schools and requiring school systems to address students by their preferred pronouns, McAuliffe said transgender students were “going through a very stressful situation” and should not be demonized.

Youngkin agreed with McAuliffe that local school districts should decide on such policies, but also consider safety, privacy and respect and include parents in the dialogue. Virginia schools in the past 20 months have declined to engage with parents, he added.

Youngkin did not respond directly to McAuliffe’s assertion that a dental clinic he had run had been fined for performing unnecessary root canals on 100 children, but said McAuliffe had put $1.4 million in state funds toward a sham Chinese Website.

On teaching children about Virginia’s racist history, McAuliffe supported the recent removals of some Confederate statues and said as governor he had removed the Confederate flag from Virginia license plates. “I think it’s important that we said the message that our state is open and welcoming,” he said.

Youngkin said students should learn that Virginia and the United States have had “horrid” historical chapters, but also great ones.

“We need to teach our children real history,” he said. “We need to teach our children to come together and have dreams that they can aspire [to] and go get. We don’t need to teach our children to view everything through a lens of race and then pit them against one another, so that their dreams are in fact stolen from them.”

Todd pressed McAuliffe for changing positions regarding Virginia’s right-to-work law. McAuliffe said there is no legislative support for changing Virginia’s right-to-work law, but Youngkin said the state’s Democratic leadership desires that end, calling it a “deathblow for Virginia’s business climate.”

The debate was sponsored by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, and NBC4. The moderator was Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and panelists were Julie Carey of NBC4 and Alberto Pimienta of Telemundo 44.

About 10 minutes into the debate, Todd stopped the proceedings, called security and went to commercial break after Liberation Party candidate Princess Blanding disrupted the proceedings from the audience to protest her exclusion from the forum.

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