Virginia gubernatorial candidates Glenn Youngkin (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D) promised rosier futures for Virginians during a Sept. 1 luncheon in Tysons, but offered vastly different roadmaps for how to get there.
McAuliffe, 64, spoke first and Youngkin last at the event, which was held by Virginia Free at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and also featured presentations by statewide candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general.
This arrangement allowed highly energetic McAuliffe to make the initial splash with his stump speech, but left Youngkin unobstructed to give him the punching bag/piñata treatment at luncheon’s end.
McAuliffe highlighted his successes as governor from 2014 to 2018. Under his tenure, Virginia stopped spending on wasteful transportation projects and implemented a system to ensure that transportation initiatives were evaluated on the basis of need, McAuliffe said.
He added that under his administration Virginia stopped kicking the proverbial can down the road and approved a $3.7 billion project to improve Interstate 66, all without using any state funds. McAuliffe also took credit for initiating the Express Lanes project along Interstate 95.
The former governor stressed how he had sought to make Virginia an open and welcoming place, as opposed to some nearby states that had implemented anti-LGBTQ laws. He added he was the nation’s first governor to officiate a gay marriage.
McAuliffe noted how he had gone on 35 trade missions to five continents during his term, worked to make the port at Norfolk profitable again and persuaded United Airlines, using a $50 million incentive, not to abandon its hub at Washington Dulles International Airport.
McAuliffe touted his work ethic – he goes to bed at 1 a.m. and awakens five hours later – and his motto, “Sleep when you’re dead.” He also favored investing $2 billion in education, saying pay for Virginia’s teachers was last in the nation, and said he would ensure every Virginia home had access to broadband service.
In addition, McAuliffe pressed for more people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. “If we do not stop [the virus] now, it will be crippling to our economy,” he said.
Both gubernatorial candidates are multimillionaire businessmen.
Youngkin, a 54-year-old former co-CEO with Carlyle Group, advocated for job creation, safer communities, lower taxes, fewer regulations and better school performance.
Youngkin said he would work to restore excellence in schools, keep classes open five days per week and advocate for the creation of 20 charter schools.
“We are getting our butt kicked and our kids are paying the price,” he said.
Virginia’s labor-participation rate had fallen to the lowest rate ever and despite a surfeit of available jobs, employers are having a tough time finding employees to fill them, he said. Youngkin attributed some of the blame to COVID-related stimulus payments.
“When government benefits, even in an emergency, remove the incentive to work, then our priorities are out of line,” he said.
Virginia has a stalled economy, not an innovation one, and the biggest group of workers seeking greener pastures in other states consists of people ages 26 to 35, Youngkin said.
“We are hollowing out our future,” he said.
Calling McAuliffe a “dangerous, 40-year political operative,” Youngkin said the former governor shared some of the blame for the failures of the Virginia Parole Board, which he said had released hardened criminals early, only to see them commit more crimes.
Youngkin lambasted Virginia’s $2.6 billion budget surplus and vowed to eliminate the grocery tax and rein in “runaway” property taxes by forcing localities wishing to raise them to put the matter to a public vote. He also favored a statewide audit to root out waste and fraud.
Youngkin received his loudest applause after vowing to uphold Virginia’s status as a “right to work” state, saying McAuliffe takes the opposite stance. Losing this fight would “torpedo Virginia’s business climate,” Youngkin said.
Voters will have the final say in the Nov. 2 election. Virginia governors may not serve consecutive terms, but are free to run again after another person has held the post. If successful in his bid, McAuliffe would be the first Virginia governor since Mills Godwin to serve two terms. Godwin did it first (1966-70) as a Democrat and then (1974-78) as a Republican.