|From the left: E.W. Jackson, Ralph Northam, and Peggy Fox. [Photo by WUSA9.]|
At a debate Sept. 24 that pitted E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor against Democrat Ralph Northam, Jackson tried to downplay some of the more controversial statements he’d made in recent months.
Those statements—such as “gay people are perverted” and non-Christians “are engaged in false religions”—had gotten the Tea Party favorite national media attention. At the debate, Jackson said those remarks were “from a church sermon.” If elected, he promised to “serve all the people of Virginia regardless what their religion is.”
Northam vowed to “unite people” and said there is no distinction between what he says in church and in everyday life. “Making statements against the LGBT community by saying they are sick individuals, saying Democrats are anti-God or anti-family, those statements are offensive to people,” he said. “They have no place in the commonwealth of Virginia.”
The debate, sponsored by George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, was held at GMU’s Arlington campus and was moderated by Peggy Fox of WUSA9.
Jackson emphasized his belief in limited government and said he “will look for ways to get government out of people’s lives.” He spoke about rising above poverty—his great grandparents were slaves and sharecroppers and his father had a sixth-grade education—to graduate from Harvard Law School. He practiced law in Boston and founded Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va., where he serves as bishop.
Northam, a physician specializing in pediatric neurology in Norfolk, stressed his experience in the Virginia Senate. Among the legislative accomplishments he cited: getting smoking banned in restaurants, making school sports safer, working to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, and supporting more transportation funding.
Jackson said he wants to make sure everyone has an opportunity for a full-time job and every child has an opportunity for a good education. One of the major impediments is Obamacare, he said. “The Affordable Care Act is crushing our economy.”
According to Northam, “there is nothing more threatening to our economy in Northern Virginia than sequestration.” He vowed to reach out to Virginia’s leaders in Congress to urge an end to the partisan bickering.
Northam’s plan for improving the state economy is to invest in the make sure the funds in the landmark transportation bill approved this year are spent wisely, continue to invest in the transportation infrastructure, renewable energy, and a world-class education system, and encourage new businesses to relocate here by supporting the LGBT community and women’s reproductive health care. He noted that Jackson said he wouldn’t have supported the new landmark transportation bill that brings lots of new money to Northern Virginia.
Jackson’s solution for growing the state’s economy is getting rid of the corporate tax and “getting regulations off the back of small businesses.” That will “unleash their own productive and creative capacities,” he said.
Doing away with the corporate income tax would take $1 billion out of the state budget every year; it would bankrupt the state, Northam countered.
Northam said for the past two years he’s been battling efforts by the Republicans to shut down women’s health clinics, “starting with the infamous transvaginal ultrasound that landed us on national talk shows.” He fought against a bill to require women to report miscarriages to the police within 24 hours and the “personhood bill” that would criminalize most forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization.
“We need to give women a choice,” he said. “Our leaders, most of whom are men, should not be telling women what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their bodies.”
“I am unabashedly pro life,” Jackson countered. “I will do everything in my power that is the right thing to do to protect the lives of unborn children.”
Northan said he supports expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. From practicing medicine, he’s found “nothing is more distressing than when a family doesn’t have access to healthcare.”
Expanding Medicaid would provide healthcare access to 400,000 hard-working Virginians, including many veterans and their families, he said, and if Virginia opts out, billions of dollars that could have been used here would go to other states. Also, preventive health is much less expensive than treating people in emergency rooms.
Jackson, who opposes Obamacare, said “the last thing we want to do is deny healthcare to Americans.” But he said he opposes the Medicaid expansion, noting “that’s not the way to cover our poor citizens.” With the government “already in a fiscal crisis,” he said “we need a variety of approaches, not a one-size-fits-all approach.” As an alternative, he cited the “free clinics all over Virginia.”
When asked what can be done to prevent mentally ill people from going on shooting rampages, Jackson criticized privacy laws that protect people who might be homicidal.
“People incapable of living safely with us need to be housed in institutions,” Jackson said, adding, “I’ve got some mentally ill people in my family. They need treatment.”
The only way to prevent violence by the mentally ill is to “go back to institutionalizing them,” he argued. When asked whether this would be costly, he said “we’ve got to stop looking to the government to do it . . . This country was built on volunteerism.”
“How sad that you have mentally ill people in your family and how sad you would have to visit them in an institution,” Northam said. “If you’re talking about ringing the cash register, that’s the way to do it.”
To prevent gun violence, Northam proposed strong background checks to “keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.” That “would not threaten the Second Amendment,” he said.
Jackson defended his opposition to tougher gun laws by talking about a rally he attended for a young man who lost his job at an Auto Zone store after he disarmed an assailant who had taken employees hostage.
“Criminals will get guns somehow. We have to strop infringing the rights of people to keep and bear arms,” Jackson said. While “it’s horrifying when young people are killed,” he said. “We have to ensure the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens are protected.”
Northam said his experiences as the medical director of the only pediatric hospice in Virginia has given him a different perspective on this issue. “Once you talk to parent who has lost a child, you can’t turn your back” on the need to curb gun violence, he said, reminding the audience about Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and last week’s shootings at the Navy Yard.
Northam called for teachers to be paid higher salaries that are competitive with nearby states. He said a bigger investment in preK education is crucial to level the playing field. “That’s what starts the gap between the haves and have nots,” he said. “If children are not reading by the third grade, there’s a good chance they will end up in the penitentiary system.”
Jackson’s prescription for improving education is provide taxpayer funds to parents who send their children to private schools or home-school them. “We’ve got to have parental choice in education” so children won’t have to be stuck in unaccredited schools, he said. “Private schools often educate children at less cost. We need to introduce the concept of competition.”
“Anything that we do that pulls money out of public education systems is something I would never support,” Northam countered. He said Jackson’s plan would take $110 million a year out of the public education budget.”
When it comes to higher education, Northam said he opposes proposals to let the University of Virginia become private. Instead, he would like to see more Virginia students have access to state colleges, noting that budget cuts are forcing them to take in too many out-of-state students.
Jackson proposed getting the federal government out of student loans and subsidies and reducing the cost of higher education by encouraging more online courses.
When Fox brought up the ethics lapses plaguing Gov. McDonnell and asked whether Virginia’s disclosure laws should be strengthened to restore trust in government, Jackson said, “we found out about those discretions, so something obviously worked.”
“I’m not an opponent of government,” he said, “but I am skeptical of adding layer upon layer of government regulations. . . . The real answer know what people believe and why” and “elect people not interested in self-enrichment,” he said. “If we do that, we won’t have a great need for ethics laws.”
Northam, who taught an ethics class in medical school, said, public officials and their families shouldn’t be allowed to accept gifts worth more than $100. He vowed to put more teeth in ethics reform “to prevent the kind of circus we’ve seen this year.”
Northam stressed his experience with fiscal responsibility. In contrast to his opponent, he said, “I’ve never been in bankruptcy, never had any liens, never been sued by my hometown for not paying taxes.”