Democratic Candidates Debate in Norfolk

May 17, 2017

Credit AP Photo / Steve Helber

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and former congressman Tom Perriello met in Norfolk last night for another debate before the June primary. As Michael Pope reports, a number of topics ranging from President Donald Trump to marijuana decriminalization were discussed.

The two Democrats running for governor of Virginia both want strict new restrictions on ethics in the wake of a scandal that surrounded former Republican Governor Bob McDonnell.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam says campaign finance reform has gotten out of hand. He says all those campaign finance contributions that fund his campaign and every other campaign should be limited to $10,000. 

“Virginia, as you all know, is the wild wild west. There are no limits to what people can give. So I have actually proposed a campaign finance plan where candidates don’t accept donations or contributions from corporations.”

Former Congressman Tom Perriello has been critical of Northam for taking money from Dominion, the energy utility that wants to build controversial pipelines through Virginia. He says he would also like to see campaign finance reform. 

“I believe in publicly financed elections. If we can’t get that, we need severe caps on the amount of money that any individual can give so that politicians get back to working for all the people and not just the few who can afford it.”

Since former Governor Bob McDonnell was convicted in federal court and then cleared of wrongdoing by the United States Supreme Court, the General Assembly has taken some action to limit what kinds of gifts can be received by candidates. But so far no action has been taken to create any kind of limit to how much money candidates can take or who they can take it from.

Virginia, as you all know, is the wild wild west. There are no limits to what people can give.

Another hot topic last night was President Donald Trump. Both candidates expressed desires to take on President Trump and his administration, but offered different perspectives on how to go about that. 

Perriello said it’s time to start thinking about impeachment.

"As someone who has worked in and out of the national security sector as a diplomat and as a conflict analyst, I can tell you these are incredibly serious charges. It's incredibly important that we see leaders in Washington start to proceed with impeachment and special prosecutor proceedings."

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam says Democrats upset with Trump should focus their attention on this year’s election. 

"As we travel around Virginia there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and it's our job to harness that enthusiasm and bring it to the polls on Election Day so we don't have to continue what we're seeing in Washington."

Northam and Perriello also discussed the War on Drugs, something they both agreed needs reform.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam says all that money Virginia spends on enforcing marijuana laws — $67 million a year — is creating a school to prison pipeline, mostly for African-Americans. That’s one of the reasons why Northam, a pediatric neutralist, would like to see significant change. 

“One of the things we can do is look at decriminalization of marijuana and then look at medicinal uses for it. As a doctor, over 100 medicines I use come from plants.”

Former congressman Tom Perriello says he would also like to see decriminalization. And instead of prosecuting a War on Drugs, he would like to see Virginia stand at the forefront of a fight against the Trump administration. 

“We have multiple times called out Attorney General Sessions for this racist, dog-whistling politics of trying to go back to the failed politics of both racial dog whistling but also something we can’t afford which is to continue to over-criminalize and over-incarcerate.”

This year’s election comes at a critical time because the Virginia State Crime Commission is currently studying decriminalization, and the next governor could end up playing a key role in making that happen or standing against it.

The statewide primary for Democrats and Republicans in June 13th.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.