NORFOLK — Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe (D) and Ken Cuccinelli II (R) made separate pitches here Tuesday to local business leaders concerned that federal budget cuts threaten the defense industries that helped the state ride out the recession with relative ease.
Appearing at a “jobs summit” hosted by Tidewater Community College, the candidates promoted their plans for diversifying and boosting the economy, with both noting opportunities that the Panama Canal expansion could present for the Port of Virginia.
The two men used the opportunity to delve into some of the nitty-gritty of their economic plans. Cuccinelli at one point vowed to expand a couple of existing employment programs for returning veterans, and McAuliffe said he would free Piedmont Community College from an obscure mandate to buy its furniture from the state, thereby saving it money that could be used for classroom instruction.
The pair also hit on the broad themes that they have stressed throughout the race to succeed term-limited Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R), with McAuliffe arguing that Cuccinelli is too socially conservative to lead the state and Cuccinelli asserting that McAuliffe is too untrustworthy to do so.
Tuesday’s event, which was billed as a discussion on job creation in the Tidewater region, was one of a series of issue-oriented forums that feature the candidates speaking one after the other, but not interacting. They appeared before a gathering of state prosecutors in Virginia Beach on Friday and before advocates for mental health services in suburban Richmond on Monday. They are due to address business and community leaders in Manassas on Friday.
McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, spoke first Tuesday and said he would give greater support to community colleges, helping them to produce more graduates in fields where there are shortages.
He warned that Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, would drive business away with his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. He also said the attorney general’s two-year “witch hunt” against a University of Virginia climate scientist would make scientific enterprises wary of setting up shop in the commonwealth. Cuccinelli, a climate-change skeptic, had sought copies of e-mails from the scientist, whom he suspected of manipulating state-funded climate research.
“I want Virginia to be a place that promotes science,” McAuliffe said.
Cuccinelli said it was McAuliffe who had caused Virginia to lose jobs by locating GreenTech, the electric car company McAuliffe co-founded, in Mississippi rather than Virginia.
The attorney general described himself as “blunt” and straightforward and said the same could not be said of McAuliffe.
“I am running for governor as someone who will tell you the truth, not someone who will tell you what you want to hear,” he said.
Cuccinelli said his first priority would be job creation at a time when the automatic federal spending cuts known as sequestration threaten to hit defense-heavy Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia hard. Cuccinelli said he would do that, in part, with a $1.4 billion-a-year tax cut, which he would pay for by closing unspecified tax loopholes.
He said the cut would make Virginia an even better place to do business, drawing more firms to the state at a time when its deep-water port is better prepared than its East Coast competitors for the huge ships that will come through an expanded Panama Canal.
“We are the most prepared port on the East Coast,” Cuccinelli said. “If we can double up that advantage by making Virginia an even better place to do business, we can grow jobs faster.”
McAuliffe said Virginia could best maximize the port’s potential by improving transportation in and out of it. He highlighted his support for the $1.4 billion-a-year transportation bill the General Assembly passed this year.
Cuccinelli, who opposed the transportation plan as a “massive” tax hike, noted that he supported a less tax-heavy version of the bill. He also said that despite his opposition to the legislation, he identified and solved constitutional problems with the bill, which saved it from a threatened court challenge.