Virginia’s Democratic Gubernatorial, Attorney General Candidates Debate


Virginia’s GOP nomination process for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general is grabbing headlines but early voting in the Democratic primary is still ongoing, and the final day of voting is in June. On Wednesday and Thursday, Democrats held debates between their candidates for attorney general and governor.

In the gubernatorial debate held in Bristol on Thursday evening, candidates discussed closed mines, qualified immunity, and post-pandemic economic relief.

Moderators asked the candidates how they would help local agencies fighting the spread of methamphetamine and opioids.

Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) said, “We have got to spend our energy focusing on prevention, on crisis mitigation, and recovery.”

McClellan said local agencies were relying on unreliable grant funding and called for response to go beyond immediate treatment of crises by addressing underlying causes. She said, “In many cases it begins with self-medication because there’s not access to mental health services. So, we cannot get at the opioid crisis, the methamphetamines crisis, if we are not also strengthening our mental health infrastructure in our communities.”

Jennifer Carrol Foy spoke about a client who died after painkillers prescribed for an injury led to an opioid addiction.

“I take this issue very seriously,” she said. “As your next governor I will be sure to fund our community service boards so we can get people in inpatient treatment, get them in diversion programs. I will also promote more substance abuse dockets throughout Virginia because we cannot incarcerate ourselves out of addiction. I will also work to ensure that we have more counselors throughout Virginia, multiple health clinics and expanded tele-medicine and tele-health in a real way to connect people.”

Terry McAuliffe highlighted his experience as governor.

“I set up the governor’s task force on prescription drugs and heroin addiction. I was the first southern governor to do the electronic prescribing to stop all of these doctors who were prescribe all this prescription medicine, and I allowed for our first responders to get access to naloxone, because that will indeed save someone’s life who is going through an opiate overdose,” he said. “We leaned in before and we will do it again.”

Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax said, “What we are seeing is the lack of jobs, the lack of access to opportunity, the lack of hope is driving so many people into a life that starts out one way but that ends in addiction and often tragedy.”

Fairfax called for continued funding for community service boards and highlighted a tie-breaking vote he cast to expand Medicaid.

He said, “We have got to go into our schools, directly into our communities to ensure that we are delivering programs and interventions that stop this crisis in its tracks.”

Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas) said, “The problem with drugs now is worse than when the war on drugs started and all we’ve done in the last 45 years of this policy is waste untold billions of dollars, destroy communities, and shatter lives and families.”

Carter said substance abuse is a medical problem, not a criminal problem, and said he would end Virginia’s participation in the war on drugs. He called for medical solutions to the problem.

“I spearheaded the effort to legalize cannabis here in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I will spearhead the effort to legalize other drugs in the Commonwealth of Virginia so that people can get the treatment that they need under the supervision of a doctor without having to worry about whether what’s in their pocket will land them in jail for 20 years,” he said. “We will not be able to incarcerate our way out of it.”

Progressive media and activists complained about the choice of Fox and Sinclair Broadcast Group stations to broadcast the debate. American Spectator contributor and retired Sinclair executive Mark Hyman was one of the moderators.

Hyman asked candidates, “If the General Assembly passed legislation that would ban individuals who were biological males from participating in female sports, would you sign the bill? Yes or no?”

The candidates were only given time for brief answers to the question, but all said they would not support the legislation.

“I am absolutely disgusted that the moderator asked such a gross question during our #vademsdebate,” former Richmond mayoral candidate Alexsis Rodgers tweeted. “@vademocrats leaders need to let us know what they’re gonna do to make sure this never happens again.”

It sets the tone making it acceptable to call a certain set of girls ‘biological males,'” @RMiffed explained.

Afterwards, the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA) distanced themself from the questions and the moderators at the party-sanctioned debate.

At last night’s debate, the moderator asked an offensive question that was completely out of step with our party’s values. DPVA had no role in selecting the questions or moderators for the debate, and we’re proud that every candidate stood up in defense of transgender Virginians,” the party tweeted.

Attorney General Debate

Incumbent Attorney General Mark Herring and Delegate Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) met for a debate hosted and moderated by ABC7 on Wednesday evening. With only two candidates in the primary, the candidates could efficiently focus attacks on each other. Jones mentioned Herring’s blackface scandal and attacked him for a slow response to criminal justice crises, while Herring attacked Jones for not being more proactive as a legislator.

The moderator cited the field of Republican candidates seeking nomination for attorney general on May 8 and asked Jones and Herring if they were prepared to beat whoever the GOP nominates.

Jones cited his experience as a Black man in Virginia, as a trial lawyer, and as the Finance Chair for the House Democratic Caucus.

“I know that I’m ready to take on whoever the Republicans nominate. They have these backwards and unsavory ideas about what they want to do with Virginia. We want to rise to meet this moment. We want to look ahead about how we can bring people together, not divide them,” he said.”

He added, “I look forward to the fight, I relish the opportunity, and I hope that we can make some waves here in Virginia by holding our statewide offices and maintaining our majorities to continue to build upon the progress that we’ve made these last couple of years.”

Herring said, “I feel more than ready to take on whoever the Republicans decide to put up through whatever convoluted process they have chosen in order to do it.”

“I know I can do that because I’ve already done it, twice. And I’ve shown that I have the experience and know-how to win statewide, keep this job in democratic hands, and continue fighting for you and the progressive values we share. I know that this is a point in time where we cannot go back and let Republicans take control,” he said.

“The positions that they want to do is just going right back to the days of Ken Cuccinelli. We know what that prescription looks like, and its not good for Virginia. We need an attorney general who can show that we can win statewide, keep this job in Democratic hands and continue fighting for the values that we share,” Herring said.

Jones replied, “This isn’t the same Virginia of four years ago, of eight years ago. We need somebody who knows what it takes to meet this moment to rise to the challenges to reflect our values and who has a vision to make sure we are looking ahead.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Virginia State Capitol” by Ron Cogswell. CC BY 2.0.

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