Key moments from Virginia lieutenant governor debate: Democratic candidates address issues and an apology for a question about faith

Politics

Del. Hala Ayala, Sean Perryman, Del. Mark Levine, Xavier Warren, Andria McClellan and Del. Sam Rasoul (starting from top left to bottom right; photos provided by campaigns)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The six Democrats running to be Virginia’s next lieutenant governor shared visions of reshaping the part-time position into a broader role with more responsibilities when they met Tuesday for a debate at George Mason University.  

Some candidates had been pitching the idea of making it a full-time position before Tuesday’s debate, which was hosted by WJLA, saying they believe the office should have an expanded role within the state government. 

Virginia’s lieutenant governor, the only statewide elected office that is not a full-time job, presides over the state Senate and takes over for the governor if they are removed from office or leave for any reason. The LG makes tie-breaking votes in the Senate as president of the chamber, sometimes having to decide on key pieces of legislation, and sits on certain state boards and panels.

The candidates competing for the nomination in the June 8 Democratic primary are Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria), Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Del. Hala Ayala (D-Prince William), Xavier Warren, a partner and lobbyist at Congressional Partners, former Fairfax County NAACP chairman Sean Perryman and Norfolk City Councilwoman Andria McClellan.

The winner will face Winsome Sears, the first Black Republican woman elected to the Virginia General Assembly, who won the GOP nomination in the lieutenant governor’s race on May 11.

During the hourlong debate, the candidates vying for the post also answered questions about campaign contributions, gun safety, cybersecurity and policing in Virginia. 

Envisioning the Lt. Gov. as the commonwealth’s VP

Del. Levine was asked Tuesday about his calls to have the lieutenant governor play a similar as the vice president, even though the eventual governor and lieutenant governor could be from different political parties. 

Levine replied that while it will be harder to accomplish his goals with a Republican governor and Democratic lieutenant governor, he feels confident in his ability to work across the aisle. 

“There are a lot of problems in Virginia. From gun violence to climate change to affordable health care. And I see lieutenant governor working as a partner with the governor,” Levine said. 

McClellan said she hopes to work with the governor’s office and wants to be a “full-time, active” lieutenant governor. Perryman said there will times to work with the governor but noted the independence of each office.  

“When it’s time to speak up and stand out, that is what I will do as lieutenant governor,” Perryman said Tuesday. “And I will also go and be a partner to local governments throughout the commonwealth to see how the implementation of the laws that come from Richmond are actually being executed and practiced.”

Question draws outrage (and an apology) after the debate

WJLA anchor Dave Lucas cited a Washington Post article that reported Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), the first Muslim to be elected to the General Assembly, had an advantage in campaign fundraising, in part, because of the contributions from “Muslim advocacy groups.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that. But that was the case,” Lucas said to Rasoul. “Talk a little about your fundraising efforts. And can you assure Virginians if you’re elected, you’ll represent all of them, regardless of faith or beliefs?”

Rasoul spoke about his campaign contributions, not addressing his religion or people’s faith in his response.

“I’m proud to have a campaign that’s 100% funded by individuals, with the majority of contributors coming from Virginia. Look, what I have seen is that there are special interests who have a stranglehold in Richmond. I’ve seen Dominion Energy, and many others, over and over again, unfortunately when it comes to environmental policy, other policies, stifle some of the work that needs to be done,” Rasoul replied.

“So, as your next lieutenant governor, you can count on me as a decisive tie-breaking vote to ensure that the interests of the people are represented more than another other special interest.”

Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, said on Twitter that she expressed her issues with Lucas about the question. “We don’t ask about Christian donors, Jewish donors, etc. Ok to look at donor funding, but making it faith based is discriminatory and inexcusable,” Swecker tweeted.

Swecker was responding to an earlier tweet from Perryman, who wrote: “The question asked at tonight’s debate about @Sam_Rasoul’s religion was wrong. No other candidate was asked about their ability to serve all Virginians because of their faith.”

Late Wednesday, WJLA put a statement on top of its story saying that they have since apologized to Rasoul.

“During an important, relevant exchange related to campaign finance during the debate, our anchor, Dave Lucas, asked an inappropriate and disrespectful question to Delegate Sam Rasoul. We have reached out directly to Delegate Rasoul’s campaign and expressed our sincere apology for this question and for the impact of these words,” it reads.

Stay with 8News for updates.

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