Debate recap: Democrats vying to be Virginia’s governor pitch to voters in final primary debate

Capitol Connection

Democratic gubernatorial candidates, from left, Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, and former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy participate in the last primary debate in Newport News, Va., Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Carter is shown speaking on the screen. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The five Democrats running for Virginia governor met on the debate stage Tuesday for the final time before the June 8 primary. Candidates pitched their agendas while discussing racial equity, what should be taught in schools and the everyday issues Virginians face. 

The debate, hosted by TV station WVEC at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, gave the candidates vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination a final opportunity to make the case that they are the best option for voters. 

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan opened the debate with a statement calling for a “nominee who will excite and expand our base.” 

“I’ve spent 31 years building this party and electing Democrats at the local, state and national level. It’s not enough to give someone something to vote against. We’ve got to give people something to vote for,” McClellan said Tuesday. 

Former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, of Petersburg, who stepped down to focus on her campaign, said in her opening statement that she is presenting bold ideas that past politicians have failed to bring to Virginia. The pointed remark came before she went after the record of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the first criticism of the night directed at the presumptive frontrunner. 

“We jeopardize our majority and the governorship if we do what Republicans want and nominate a former governor who failed to keep his promises and who almost lost his election to an extreme Trump Republican,” Carroll Foy said during her opening remarks. 

McAuliffe mainly avoided directly responding to the attacks, focusing instead on his past record as governor, the support he’s received during his campaign and the Republican Party’s nominee in November’s general election.

“Glenn Youngkin is not a reasonable Republican,” McAuliffe said Tuesday. “He is an extreme, right-wing Republican. He is a loyalist to Donald Trump.”

Later in the debate, Del. Lee Carter (D-Manassas) called McAuliffe out for mentioning Youngkin and Trump so often.

“The debate that we’re supposed to be having on this stage is a debate about the future of this commonwealth,” he said in a rebuttal to one of McAuliffe’s answers. “It’s about what we stand for and what we’re going to fight for. And this is the first opportunity for the Democratic Party to define what it is going to be after Donald Trump is gone. And he is gone. So, we can’t just be a party that is opposed to the other guys. We have to fight for something.” 

McAuliffe responded by saying he keeps the promises he makes during his campaign, directing those watching to his website to see the policies he’s putting forward and how it intends to enact the changes.

Carroll Foy, who has claimed during her campaign that it’s a two-way race between her and McAuliffe, went further and directly compared the former governor to Youngkin.

“Virginians deserve better than Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe at the top of the ticket,” she said. “Two wealthy, out-of-touch millionaire politicians who don’t understand the challenges Virginians face.” 

The second question, asked by WVEC’s Janet Roach, focused on the lack of understanding and public awareness of the Tulsa Race Massacre that took place 100 years ago. Roach asked how each candidates’ administrations would “ensure that the history of all people is taught and celebrated in public schools?”

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax said while it’s important that the massacre and other similar incidents throughout history are included in the curriculum in Virginia’s public schools, he believes more needs to be done to address the existing racial inequalities that may go unnoticed.

“We talk about the monuments that are coming down to the Confederacy, but we have living monuments to racial oppression,” Fairfax said during Tuesday’s debate. “In the form of dilapidated schools that Black and brown children walk into every single day.”

Carroll Foy said issues like mass incarceration must also be addressed. “While it’s important to educate people about our history. It’s not enough. We can’t have race-neutral policies to combat racist policies. We need intentional anti-racist policies here in Virginia,” she said.

McClellan noted that these moments in history have not been taught in schools, leaving adults and children unaware of the stories of the Tulsa massacre. She called for more discussion in public spaces so students are not the only ones to learn about the details.

“But I know these stories intimately. My parents grew up during the Depression under the tyranny of Jim Crow. My great-grandfather had to take a literacy test and find three white people to vouch for him just to be able to vote,” McClellan said.

“This is something that has happened again and again throughout the history of this country,” Carter said of the massacre, citing the MOVE bombing in Philadelphia in 1985, “and we need to have a real reckoning with that.”

Carter, a self-described socialist, reiterated his proposal to use tax revenue from the legal marijuana industry, which is expected to begin in 2024, to fund reparations for Virginia’s Black and Indigenous communities.

Republicans already selected their statewide candidates in a party-run convention in early May. Joining Youngkin on the ticket is Del. Jason Miyares, who secured the Republican nomination in the attorney general’s race, and Winsome Sears, the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. 

Early voting is already underway in the June 8 primary.

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