Virginia's Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor faced off last night in a debate hosted by NBC and the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli offered their positions on job creation, Medicaid expansion, gay marriage and gun control.
Cuccinelli argued McAuliffe didn't understand the duties of the governor or the state legislative process. "It's hard to find inefficiencies in a government you don't understand. And Terry McAuliffe doesn't know how Virginia government works," he said.
McAuliffe, for his part, focused on Cuccinelli's conservative positions on social issues including abortion and gay marriage. "He's run on jobs and transportation when he runs for office. He gets into office and he runs on and serves with an ideological agenda," he said.
The libertarian candidate for governor, Robert Sarvis, was not included in the debate. In a Washington Post poll out this week, he was supported by 10 percent of likely voters. McAuliffe led with 47 percent, and Cuccinelli had 39 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.
We've been hearing for months about the positions of the two candidates who were on the stage last night. If you'd been invited to join them, what's the one message you would have most wanted to get across to Virginia voters?
I would have said that if you want a Virginia that's both open-minded and open for business, then you have a candidate to vote for. You can be proud to vote for me, I'm going to protect your economic and personal freedom.
You ran for state senate previously as a Republican, and the Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli has pushed to reduce regulation and the size of government. Where do you differ?
First of all, I don't really think the Republicans can be trusted on economic issues. They had the governor's house and Senate in Virginia and we didn't get tax reform, regulatory reform or educational choice. But also they're just so regressive on personal liberty issues that I can't remain onboard with that party at all.
In terms of experience, what type of experience do you bring to the job?
The most important thing that I bring is recognition of the role of government and the limitations on government power and the governor's office. The governor needs to be committed to the rule of law; he can't be politicizing institutions and he has to know that we need to be getting cronyism and corporatism out of the tax and regulatory code.
Gun violence has been top of mind since last week’s shooting at the Washington Navy Yard. You oppose gun control laws and you have said the first place to look to reduce gun violence is at our drug laws –in particular by legalizing marijuana and decriminalizing other drugs. How will that help prevent gun violence?
By our drug prohibition laws we're making the same mistakes we made with alcohol prohibition—we're creating a very well-armed, well-funded criminal enterprise that's very violent. And just as we saw a decade-long decrease in violence after prohibition was repealed, we would see the same thing with drug repeal. Not only that, but drug reform would touch on many other issues. We ruin a lot of lives and livelihoods by making people unemployable with criminal records, and this would be an opportunity to rebuild those families and communities.
On the issue of gun control, where would you stand on other things like background checks or closing the gun show loophole?
A lot of the issues are red herrings or canards where the gun control law don't necessarily affect the level of gun violence and they burden the law-abiding gun owners, so I really want to focus on evidence-based policies. The best way to reduce gun violence is to end the drug war.
One question in this race is whether to expand the Medicaid program in the state. You oppose federal involvement in health care. What kind of safety net—if any—do you think we should provide low-income and vulnerable people?
I'm not looking to get rid of the social safety net. I'm looking to make it more effective and more cost-effective for taxpayers. The federal law, the new ACA [Affordable Care Act] is the law of the land, and I'm trying to focus us on the ways in which state policies have fouled up our healthcare system—reforming licensure laws, making sure we have more doctors and nurses who are able to provide the healthcare services that will give poor folks access to healthcare.
You have degrees from Harvard, Cambridge, New York University and George Mason University --- clearly someone who values education. You argue there should be less regulation and oversight of public schools. How can you be sure all kids in Virginia get an adequate education without some sort of standardization?
I'm not against accountability. In fact, I think that a system of choice and competition will actually bring more accountability to the public schools. I do support certain reforms to the public schools, but the best thing we can do to make sure that every child is getting a good education is to maximize the choice that parents have, and that's by putting money into their hands rather than into politicians' and bureaucrats' hands.
So a voucher-type system?
Something like that, or tax credits. I'm open-minded to how we do it. This is something that benefits teachers as well. Just as when athletes move into free agency and their share of the revenue brought in doubles, when teachers can shop around their skills and market themselves, they benefit as well.
Looking at recent polling, you appear to be siphoning votes away from the Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli. Do you have any concerns you could help put a Democrat in the governor’s mansion?
If you look at a broad swath of the different polls, I'm pulling from both sides fairly evenly and a lot of my supporters are actually people who are so fed up with two candidates that they either weren't going to vote or were going to leave that vote empty. When I travel the state, people are absolutely elated to find that they have a third choice. I don't view it as taking votes from anyone else, I'm the only person who's actually out there meeting voters everywhere and earning their votes.
The others have had relatively high negative numbers. What types of things have you been hearing as you've gone around the commonwealth?
Exactly that—voters are fed up with the Republican and Democratic parties, and they're fed up with these two candidates who exemplify exactly what's wrong with their parties. They're happy to have a third choice, happy to have someone who is running a positive campaign, who believes in both economic and personal liberty.