|Left to right: Aneesh Chopra, moderator Rex Simmons, and Ralph Northam.|
The two candidates running in the Democratic primary for Virginia lieutenant governor—Aneesh Chopra and Ralph Northam—agree on a lot of key policy issues, such as women’s access to healthcare and the need to curb gun violence.
One area where they differ is campaign tactics. Chopra has put out negative ads attacking some of Northam’s votes in the Virginia Senate. At a debate June 2 sponsored by the Springfield District Democratic Committee, Northam vowed to stay positive. “I am a person of integrity and a person of worth. I will not attack my opponent,” he told the audience at the Springfield Golf and County Club.
Northam, a pediatric surgeon, has served in the Senate since 2007, representing the 6th District in Hampton Roads. Chopra, a resident of Arlington, was chief technology officer in the Obama Administration and served in a similar capacity for former Gov. Tim Kaine.
The winner of the Democratic primary, June 11, will face the Republican candidate, E.W. Jackson, in November.
Chopra introduced himself at the debate with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Knowledge in our society should be widely dispersed.” He said he believes that “building an economy that works for everyone strengthens the middle class,” and he vowed to “inject an entrepreneurial spirit” into state government.
Northam outlined his accomplishments in the Senate, including getting smoking banned in restaurants in 2008 and, more recently, helping get the landmark transportation bill passed and pushing for the expansion of Medicaid and fighting for women’s reproductive rights. “The assault on women’s healthcare in Virginia has got to stop,” he said.
The lieutenant governor plays a crucial role in breaking ties votes. If elected, Chopra said he would collaborate with the other side but would also use “every parliamentary maneuver available to reflect democratic values” and stop a “divisive negative agenda.”
Northam said he would put Democrats in charge of the committees and won’t return to power sharing “until they play fair,” noting that the current attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor, reshuffled the committees to push for GOP efforts to attack women’s access to healthcare and support voter suppression.
“Until we get some cooperation, we’ll take control of the Senate,” he said, although he also promised to “listen to good ideas” and “stand up for democratic values and principles.”
Chopra promised to take full advantage of the lieutenant governor’s position as a member of the Council on Virginia’s Future “to deliver a more effective and entrepreneurial government.” He would also get the state government to support Startup Virginia, an initiative he launched last year with Steve Case.
To attract new business to Virginia, “we need to be all inclusive” and shouldn’t be attacking women or the GLBT community, Chopra said. Instead, the state should support transportation and infrastructure needs, invest in all levels of education, beginning with prekindergarten, support equal pay for women, and provide more incentives to entrepreneurs.
“The number-one factor for job creation is human capital,” Chopra said, calling for the state to “invest in the building blocks of an innovation economy” and connect the population to “the next wave of global broadband.”
Northam stressed his background in protecting the environment. A clean commonwealth that’s a great place to live will encourage families to move here, he said.
While Northam said he grew up hunting and fishing and understands the gun culture in rural areas, he has also pushed for more restrictive gun legislation, noting, as a physician, “I've sat at the bedside of children dying from gunshot wounds.” He supports universal background checks, bans on military assault weapons and high-powered clips, and expanded access to mental health care.
Chopra also said he supports universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-powered magazines, but he criticized Northam for opposing gun buy-back programs and voting on the side of the NRA on the Castle Doctrine, which allows the use of deadly force when a person’s home is invaded.
Vowing to “stay away from the negative,” Northam cited his “D” rating from the NRA and urged the audience to “look at my record in more detail,” noting that he voted to ban guns in bars and prohibit people from buying more than one gun a month.
“I am disappointed my opponent voted for a bill to allow mining companies to inject untreated coal-processing wastewater into streams,” Chopra said.
As a physician, Northam said it is “shortsighted and offensive” of his opponent to accuse him of supporting any bill that would threaten the public’s health.
Northam said helped restore the Chesapeake Bay by banning phosphorus in fertilizer, which creates dead zones, and cited his efforts to bring back the blue crab population, control storm runoff, and update septic systems.
He also touted his votes against uranium mining and offshore drilling, which he called “a terrible mistake” that would threaten tourism and the state’s economy. Instead, he would make wind and solar energy a priority.
Chopra cited his work in the White House on climate change, which he called the number-one issue affecting the next generation.
As lieutenant governor, Chopra would play a leadership role to bring together all the federal, state, and local agencies involved with the Chesapeake Bay. He called for modernizing Virginia’s electrical grid and removing barriers to solar and other renewal energy, noting that Virginia’s bureaucratic processes amount to a $1 billion hidden tax.
Northam would continue efforts to get the state legislature to expand Medicaid in Virginia as part of the Affordable Care Act. That would provide coverage to an additional 350,000 to 400,000 people, and by pumping billions of federal dollars into the state, create more than 30,000 jobs, he said.
Without adequate health coverage, more people would end up in emergency rooms, which is inefficient and expensive, he said. And if Virginia refuses the money, it would go to other states.
Northam would like to see the healthcare system change from being a “quantity-based system,” in which the goal is to treat as many people as possible, to an “outcomes-based system” judged on the health of the population.
Chopra, called Medicaid expansion “the first step in a multi-step journey” that can save billions of dollars by keeping people healthy. He vowed to implement the “$1 billion health care innovation challenge” launched by the White House, which Gov. McDonnell refused to participate in because it is linked to Obamacare. Chopra would also expand the use of technology to improve healthcare in rural areas.
Women’s reproductive health
Northam called the assault on women’s reproductive healthcare in the McDonnell Administration “an embarrassment for Virginia.”
He voted against the proposed “personhood bill,” which would have criminalized most forms of contraception and banned in vitro fertilization, and opposed the TRAP (targeted regulation for abortion providers) laws, which passed. The TRAP laws, which impose strict regulations on health clinics, are all about “decreasing access for women,” not safety, as claimed by their sponsors, Northam said. “There is no data showing clinics are unsafe.”
Chopra said he agreed with Northam on those issues, noting it is critical for women to have access to health clinics. While working to repeal the TRAP laws, he would act immediately to use the executive branch’s broad regulatory authority to keep the clinics open via “informed consent.” That would allow the clinics to post signs letting patients know the clinics don’t have the same rules as hospitals.
Both candidates said they support marriage equality for gays.
Chopra would support efforts to restore the anti-discrimination rules on LGBT employment that McDonnell took away. “We need to welcome talent of every stripe,” he said. “Tapping in to everyone’s talents makes us stronger, not weaker.” He also vowed to work on stopping cyber-bullying.
Northam called discrimination against LGBTs in Virginia “a shame and embarrassment” and said marriage equality is critical so partners can adopt children and make end-of-life decisions in hospitals.
Northam wants to make sure all children have access to preschool, supports more funding for Virginia colleges and universities, called for improvements in technical and career education, and said the state’s higher education institutions should give a higher priority to in-state students.
“Investments in education will pay off for decades,” said Chopra. He supports more funding for all levels of education, incentives to keep tuition costs down at state colleges and universities, and more transparency so parents and students can better compare tuition costs and starting salaries in various professions. He also vowed to help community colleges secure more federal funding for workforce training.