Virginia Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates Face off in Debate


Four of the five Democratic candidates for Governor discussed legal reform, racial justice, environmental justice, and good government in a debate hosted by The Virginia People’s Debates. Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas), Jennifer Carrol Foy, Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), and Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax participated; front-runner Terry McAuliffe was absent.


Moderators asked candidates how they would support workers’ right to unionize.

McClellan stood out by not calling for an end to right-to work. She said, “I do not believe employment should be conditioned on whether you are or not a member of a union. Other than that, anything that is standing in the way of organizing and collective bargaining, I will push to get rid of and work with our localities to actually have collective bargaining for local public employees and state public employees as quickly as possible.”

Carter cited his unionized campaign staff.

“I have been the chief patron of the bill to repeal right-to-work here in the Commonwealth in Virginia and make Virginia a free bargaining state,” he said. “The only holdouts to that policy are in the General Assembly and in the governor’s mansion right now. The people voted on it in 2016 and rejected right-to-work.”

Carrol Foy said, “As governor, I will support collective bargaining, repealing right-to-work (and that did not get stuck in my throat.) Pass paid family leave, paid sick days, all of these things that [are] necessary to uplift workers, women, and wages and unions throughout Virginia. So I will always stand on the side of workers.”

“I am in support of repealing right-to-work and also lifting up our union brothers and sisters,” Fairfax said. He mentioned a tie-breaking vote he cast in the senate expanding collective bargaining rights for public employees.

He said,  “People talk about right to work. It is often right to work for less.”

Rural Broadband

Carrol Foy said that a lack of internet has hurt some children during virtual learning.

“There are some kids who have had no schooling for almost a year,” she said. “I pledge to have 97 percent of every Virginian having access to high-speed internet. I will do that by putting $50 million a year into the Virginia telecommunications initiative creating public-private partnerships. I will ensure that more municipal co-ops can also draw down those body funds and cooperate. I will make investments in wireless and fiber optics. I will support places like Wise County who are thinking creatively about access to rural broadband through Starlink.”

Fairfax said, “We need to continue our efforts that I have engaged in with the Northam administration to have universal broadband, here in the Commonwealth of Virginia investing $25 million per year already to insure that is done and continue to ramp up.”

“It has got to be a utility just like electricity and water were at the turn of the century,” he said. “It impacts, as you’ve said in your question, everything from education to our small businesses to the local economy.”

McClellan said initial infrastructure was lacking. “So, we have to work to invest in putting the infrastructure either in the ground or in the air to meet the specific needs based on their geography. That’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution,” she said.

She said different solutions including governmental programs, and public-private partnerships would be needed to meet the needs of different localities. She called for subsidies to lower consumer costs.

“But it is going to require an investment, a historic investment,” she said. “We have already seen through the recent act passed by Congress more money coming specifically for broadband, more money coming for state and local governments. We can use that to supplement what we need for broadband. But we need to address affordability.”

Carter said, “We have been spending millions and millions of dollars trying to subsidize Comcast and Cox Cable to run these wires for years. They have not done it and they will not do it because these for-profit organizations are not going to be able to turn a profit off of running the wires, no matter how much we spend on it.”

He said, “So we’ve got to look at how we got over that hurdle with electricity during the New Deal, which is we ran the wires. And that’s what I’m going to do. I will hire state employees to run the wires. It’s exactly that simple.  And then once we have run the infrastructure there to every residential address, we are going to spin that off to the electric co-ops and to municipal ISPs to operate the service, just like they did with electricity.”

McAuliffe Absent

The Virginia People’s Debates held an attorney general candidate debate at the beginning of the month, but front-runner Attorney General Mark Herring did not participate. Similarly, McAuliffe did not participate in Tuesday evening’s debate.

Host Kristin Hoffman said at the beginning of the debate, “Terry McAuliffe was invited with everyone else and reminded multiple times over the past weeks that this debate seat was open for him. But his campaign finally declined to participate. So I thank the candidates tonight for supporting our democratic principles of competition, public engagement, and open debate.”

In a blog post, conservative political organization Virginia Rising Executive Director Tucker Davis cited bad blood between Fairfax and McAuliffe, as well as prior attacks from Carrol Foy as reasons McAuliffe might have chosen not to attend.

“He likely doesn’t want to answer on right-to-work, flip flopping on the death penalty, FBI investigations into campaign financing, being against campaign finance reform and favoring education cuts and messing up [regarding] the Charlottesville ‘stand down’ order,” Fairfax spokesperson Lauren Burke told The Virginia Star.

“Hard to dodge all that when you’re not progressive,” she said.

Throughout the evening, Carrol Foy attacked McAuliffe over his history on clean energy and his ties to corporate interest. Carter cited McAuliffe’s large political war chest as a reason for campaign finance reform.

In her opening statement, Carrol Foy said, “We need a new leader who will move Virginia forward and not back. And frankly, we need a leader who will show up, unlike Terry McAuliffe, who chose not to be here tonight.”

In her closing statement, Carrol Foy said, “Terry McAuliffe chose not to be here tonight because this is the people’s debate. And Terry McAuliffe doesn’t align himself with the people but with big corporate interests.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected]

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