PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The two men running to be Virginia’s next governor tried their best to stick to their talking points in a roundtable discussion on Thursday evening, even when pressed to give “yes” or “no” answers.
Both former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, (D) and Glenn Youngkin, (R) sat down for 30 minutes each to answer questions from 10 On Your Side’s Andy Fox and Anita Blanton as well as a Norfolk State University student. No questions were off-limits.
The decisions touched on a wide variety of topics from public education, taxes, abortion, public safety, climate change and even the candidates’ marriage proposals.
While the candidates launched quickly into their rehearsed rhetoric following most questions, several times they had to be pressed to even give a non-answer.
Eric Claville, a political analyst with Norfolk State University, said that was by design.
“Less than 30 days out from the election, you really want to focus on your base,” Claville said. “That’s what each of the candidates were doing. You don’t want to really answer questions you don’t have to answer if it’s not really part of the platform, or it’s an issue.”
Here are some key takeaways from the roundtable:
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, public schools have been an ever-growing part of politics. Specifically, there has been a rise in accusations from mostly conservative groups that Virginia schools are teaching something known as Critical Race Theory.
While the actual critical race theory framework is not taught in Virginia schools, school board meetings statewide have become heated over what some perceive as inappropriate race-centered teaching.
“The idea that CRT is not embedded in our school system is wrong,” Youngkin said, calling it a political agenda putting everything in the lens of race.
“I don’t think we should bucket children into certain sectors as oppressors,'” Youngkin said.
When Blanton questioned McAuliffe about CRT, he called it a “dog whistle” that’s dividing people but wouldn’t define what he believes it means.
“Anita, it is not taught here in Virginia,” McAuliffe said.
“But how do you define it?” Blanton pressed.
“Doesn’t matter. It’s not taught here in Virginia. So I’m not going to spend my time. I’m not going to even spend my time because the school board and everyone else says it’s not taught. It’s racist. It’s a dog whistle,” McAuliffe said.
“But if we don’t have a definition, how can we say it’s racist?” Blanton pressed again.
McAulliffe never did define it.
McAuliffe also doubled down on his comments that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
He said he stands by those comments made about a bill that would have allowed parents to veto specific books. He said decisions on education should be left up to local school boards and the Virginia Department of Education.
“If you have 25 students in a classroom, you don’t want parents vetoing books,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe has been running a campaign commercial with Youngkin captured on cell phone video talking to voters about his stance on abortion.
“When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House, we can start going on offense. But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get. So you’ll never hear me support Planned Parenthood,” Youngkin said on the video.
“As governor would you support the continued funding of Planned Parenthood. Yes or no?” Fox asked him during the roundtable.
“So let me just talk about Planned Parenthood. First, I don’t believe public money should be used to fund abortion. I do believe in women’s health. My mother was a nurse,” Youngkin said before being interrupted by Fox.
“That was a yes or no,” Fox said about his question.
“Well, it depends on what it’s used for,” Youngkin said before ultimately saying he would not support funding Planned Parenthood if the money went toward funding abortions.
McAuliffe was questioned on if he would support legislation allowing for an abortion in the woman’s third trimester.
“Outside of a medical condition, no,” McAuliffe answered.
Police involved shooting investigations
Both candidates were pressed about their views on whether independent investigations should be automatically launched in all instances where a law enforcement officer uses deadly force on a citizen.
Pharrell Williams told the City of Virginia Beach Tuesday that one of the reasons he was canceling the Something in the Water festival in the city in 2022 had to do with the “toxic energy” running the city.
“The toxic energy that changed the narrative several times around the homicide of my cousin, [Donovon] Lynch, a citizen of Virginia,” Williams wrote.
Lynch was shot and killed by a Virginia Beach police officer on March 26. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the Virginia Beach Police Department was planning on handling the investigation themselves.
Members of Lynch’s family were angered when they said Lynch was brandishing a gun at the time of the shooting, after initially only saying a gun was found at the scene. Days later, the Virginia Beach Police chief asked for Virginia State Police to take over the investigation.
So, do the candidates feel independent investigations should be automatically launched when an officer uses deadly force?
“I wouldn’t be against a requirement,” McAuliffe answered.
Youngkin said the question was “incredibly complicated.”
“I do believe allowing outside law enforcement officials who are well trained to come into circumstance makes an enormous amount of sense,” Youngkin said. “I don’t think there should be ‘automatic’ much of anything.”
To watch the full roundtable with both candidates, click on the video above.
Editor’s note: WAVY has reached out to the Youngkin campaign for the full story on his engagement to his wife, which could not be aired in full due to time constraints. McAuliffe’s engagement story was included in full in the roundtable. This note will be updated if there’s a response from Youngkin’s campaign.