With Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, the Democratic nominee for governor, and Ed Gillespie, the Republican nominee, preparing for their first debate on Saturday at the Homestead Resort, let’s cut through the talking points and Twitter fights between campaign staffers to ask pointed questions of the major party candidates.
Mr. Gillespie: It was reported that your criticism of Lt. Gov. Northam’s support for what you called the “largest tax increase in Virginia history” was actually a criticism of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature legislative achievement on transportation funding. Do you believe Gov. McDonnell, and the Republican-controlled General Assembly, were wrong to push for the road funding measure, and would you seek to repeal it?
Mr. Northam: The Gillespie campaign points out that for all of your concern for rural Virginia, you were repeatedly absent from board meetings of the Center for Rural Virginia. Why did you skip those meetings, and why should Virginia’s rural voters take your sudden interest in them seriously?
Mr. Gillespie: A centerpiece of your campaign is a proposed cut in the state’s personal income tax rates. One of your primary opponents, state Sen. Frank Wagner, said your plan was based on “dishonest, phony math.” We can debate whether the economic model your plan is based on is an accurate, but can you tell us why your plan does not index your proposed cuts, leaving Virginia taxpayers susceptible to bracket creep in future years?
Mr. Northam: You have come out in favor of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which has caused some to question your commitment to the environment, and led to what strongly appears to be a split between you and Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Justin Fairfax on the issue. Are you still supportive of the pipeline, and, if so, how do you propose to heal the serious rift in the Democratic ranks?
Mr. Gillespie: In a recent broadcast, Rush Limbaugh criticized your campaign, saying it was “flailing,” that your campaign is filled with “a bunch of people who don’t know how to get Republicans who voted for Trump,” and, because of this, “you’re not gonna win the governorship.” How do you respond to Mr. Limbaugh’s criticism, and do you plan to ask the president to campaign for you this fall?
Mr. Northam: The Democratic Party of Virginia criticized Mr. Gillespie for “bragging” about his close relationship with members of the Trump administration and how he would leverage those relationships to help protect Virginia’s military bases from possible closure. Given Virginia’s heavy reliance of federal spending, does your party’s heated rhetoric — and your own — fatally undermine your ability to work with the Trump administration?
To both of you: Recent reporting out of Richmond showed that some of the city’s public school buildings are in deplorable condition. In one elementary school, teachers are said to “sometimes wear surgical masks in class and mark the day by wiping rodent droppings from students’ desks.” What are your specific plans to address Richmond’s — and the state’s — aging public school infrastructure?
To both of you: Absent from this event is the Libertarian nominee for governor, Cliff Hyra. While a private organization may set whatever ground rules it wants for candidates to appear at its events, will you both commit to including Mr. Hyra in future debates and insist that the debate organizers extend invitations to Mr. Hyra in the interest of providing a full and fair airing of the issues facing the commonwealth?
And so on. Even if questions like this are asked, it is unlikely the answers will rise above the usual word salad candidates resort to when confronted with matters they would rather avoid.
But we can always hope that debate moderator Judy Woodruff will cut through the roughage and the baloney so Virginians can get the honest answers they deserve.