Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. (Steve Helber/AP)

Laura Vozzella: Okay, thanks for being here.

Ed Gillespie: Thanks for having me.

Laura Vozzella: So big picture here, you’re an establishment figure running in the Trump era. How’s that working for you?

Ed Gillespie: You know everywhere I go in Virginia, and I go everywhere in Virginia, people are responsive to my message about reorienting our approach to economic development and putting a greater focus on start-ups and scale-ups, making it easier to open a new business in Virginia, to expand an existing one. For a long time we’ve had to focus on what I call whale hunting. We’re always trying to get a Fortune 100 company to move their headquarters here and I’m all for that, but we need to take a longer term, more patience approach to sustainable job creation in Virginia. And I think that requires putting a greater emphasis on start-ups and scale-up. And so you know people are interested in ideas and policies and how are we going to improve life for all Virginians. And I have a plan that will make our future better for all Virginians. And I find everywhere I go people are very responsive and appreciative of that approach.

Laura Vozzella: You’re in a little bit of a tricky situation in that Trump clearly did not win in November, but he did win the Republican primary. That said, it doesn’t seem like the most Trump style opponent in the primaries is gaining much traction. But how do you interpret the Trump win nationally and what it says about both parties really?

Ed Gillespie: I think it revealed a concern about our future and I see that here in Virginia. You know we’ve had three straight years now where more people have moved out of Virginia than into Virginia. It had never happened at all since we started collecting that data in 1978 and now we’ve had three straight years of it. For 10 years now we’ve been swapping out high paying jobs for low paying jobs and our economic growth is anemic. You know the most recent year we had was a 2 percent growth rate, which is pathetic, but that was the first time in five years we’ve got above 1 percent. And I feel the economic anxiety with my fellow Virginians as I travel the Commonwealth, and it’s more pronounced in certain parts of Virginia than other parts. But everywhere — you know I was just meeting with a large group of women here in Northern Virginia talking about economic opportunity, and I told a story about a young woman I was talking to a couple of weeks ago: 26 years old, grew up here in Northern Virginia, moved in her teen years to Richmond, went to high school in Richmond, went to JMU and got a nursing degree. And she’s living in Houston, Texas, right now and she’d rather be living in Virginia. But the opportunities aren’t here. Texas has more opportunity, and it’s a more affordable place to live. And so we’ve got to address this. I asked how many folks either have adult children or adult children from Virginia who have gone to our great public schools and are not living in the Commonwealth right now. Have moved to find opportunities in other states. And two-thirds of the hands went up. And so this economic anxiety, this concern about the lack of opportunity and good paying jobs in Virginia, is pretty much everywhere I go. Not just in coal country or Southside or Hampton Roads. But like I say I was just in Tysons Corner and you could feel it there too. It’s palpable. And I think that what President Trump tapped into in his campaign is a sense that we’ve got to make it easier for hardworking Virginians to have higher take-home pay, to be able to get full-time jobs, to have the skills, training we need in Virginia for folks who are not going to go on to get a four-year college degree to get a good paying job and for those who do get a four-year college degree to be able to have the opportunity to stay here in Virginia.

Laura Vozzella: Now the man you’d like to replace would say we’d create all these health care jobs and employ that nurse, bring her back, if we just expanded Medicaid under Obamacare. What’s your thought about that?

Ed Gillespie: Well, if you look at the states that have expanded Medicaid, they’ve put their taxpayers on the hook long term for a significant hit, and you’re already seeing it now even before there is more of a cost shift to the states. And so I’ve got policies and I’m going to put them forward. I have nine different policy development working groups. Health care is one of them. Each of these policy working groups is co-chaired by a member of our state Senate or our House of Delegates so that I can hit the ground running if I’m elected to get this agenda introduced in our assembly. And we can make health care more affordable and more accessible without expanding the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And we need to take a different approach. We do need to make it more affordable, more accessible. But Medicaid expansion is not the right answer for Virginia, and I think if you look at the experience in other states, people would agree.

Laura Vozzella: And looking at Obamacare more broadly, this came up in the debate and also back in 2014 when you ran for Senate. There are people who point to your book — here will give a little plug. And Corey Stewart was pitching your book in the last debate and saying how, page 245, you endorsed the individual mandate. And you’re obviously discussing different possibilities for addressing the fact that people who don’t think they need health care sometimes don’t get insured. But then if they have an accident or whatever they end up using medical services, and then people who are paying insurance rates wind up footing the bill. And so you did explore this issue of having every emancipated adult capable of providing his or her health care do so, possibly through the tax code. Is that not a version of the individual mandate, which I think originally came out of the Heritage Foundation or some conservative think tank?

Ed Gillespie: Well a couple of things. First of all, thanks for plugging the book, “Winning Rights: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies.” And I wrote it in 2006, and I always say if you had bet my college roommates 30 years ago that Ed Gillespie would ever read a book, let alone write one, you wouldn’t have had any takers. But I’m proud of that book and I did talk about the health care debate that was going on at the time in 2006 and talked about expanding health savings accounts, which I think is a good policy. I talked about tax credits, which is what I was talking about in that chapter of the book and what the debate was at the time. There is a big difference between a tax credit and a mandate. You know people who take a tax credit for a home, for home buying, are not mandated to buy a home. People who take a tax credit for health insurance are not mandated to buy health insurance. We do want to make it more affordable. And that was one of the options. There’s a lot of different options that have come into play, obviously over the past 11 years. And that’s what Congress is looking at now in terms of their debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. How do you make it more affordable, get more people covered? Without the mandate — and I fought the mandate tooth and nail, as you know, during the course of the debate of the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, as it was moving through Congress and vigorously opposed the mandates. So I oppose a mandate. I do think that on the conservative side we do have to put forward policies and proposals that make health care more affordable, more accessible to more Virginians. And that’s, like I said, one of the things I’m going to do in my campaign as I continue my process of announcing and unveiling specific policies for the people of Virginia to look at before they vote in this election.

Laura Vozzella: So you were looking more carrot than stick on that in terms of you saw the benefit of inducing more people to provide their own insurance?

Ed Gillespie: Look, I think we need to make health care more affordable for more Americans and for more Virginians with our state policy. But there is a very significant difference from an employer mandate versus a tax credit.

Ed Gillespie: Right, okay. Now another book I don’t have this one and I’m not sure I can even flash the cover in a video for a family newspaper in the first part of the name is Rat — assuming you’re familiar with this book, Rat “Bleeped,” and it’s the true story behind the secret plan to steal America’s democracy by David Daley. Are you familiar with it?

Ed Gillespie: I can’t say I am.

Laura Vozzella: Oh okay, all right. It came out and it’s about redistricting and it talks about what he calls a secret plan by Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and Chris Jankowski to plot the comeback of the Republican Party after the first Obama win. And basically he’s saying that you all helped Republicans take back the statehouses and whatnot all over the country, which I’m sure you would gladly claim. But he characterizes it as rigging American democracy and basically saying that it’s responsible for when people complain about gerrymandering and voters and politicians choosing their voters rather than the other way around — he’s saying that you’re part of a cabal that cooked that up. And what do you — if you’re not familiar with the book that’s fine. But what role if any did you play in sort of redistricting redistricting battles?

Ed Gillespie: Well, I chaired the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helps to elect lieutenant governors and secretaries of state and state legislators all around the country. We were very successful. And there was no doubt in 2010 we put a focus on state legislatures that would have a significant impact in the redistricting process. I think it was a smart plan. No secret about it.

Laura Vozzella: Right.

Ed Gillespie: There was a lot of press around it and made it clear that this was one of the goals. And I’m proud of the work that we did there and I’m proud of the work that state legislatures are doing. You know we have I think now 69 of the 99 state legislative chambers are in Republican hands, including the State House and the state Senate in Virginia. When I was chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee more recently one of the things we did was to fend off an onslaught of liberal outside spending from George Soros and Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg that were trying to flip the Virginia State Senate from Republican control and all this out-of-state money came pouring in. And we were very helpful, the Republican State Leadership Committee, to Virginia Republicans in fending off that onslaught of liberal outside money, and it’s a very effective organization. I’m no longer involved in it, but you know I’ve been focused on the states and the impact and the innovation that we see in policy at the state level for sometime and it’s obviously one of the reasons that I’m running for governor because I know that at the state level you can make a significant impact on the quality of life for, in my case, from my fellow Virginians. And so I’m proud of that work and it was very successful.

Laura Vozzella: Is there such a thing as nonpartisan redistricting? I think it sounds good, but some people question whether — you know, you still have human beings involved. But is it possible or is it a good goal? Or is it you — it’s a contest and you should try to seek advantage for your party as the other party does it for itself?

Ed Gillespie: Yeah, and I’ve looked at it very closely and I do understand some of the concerns about, as you put it, elected officials picking their voters rather than voters picking their elected officials. And it’s a legitimate concern, especially with the precision with which you can carve out district lines now. But if you look at places that have tried nonpartisan redistricting — I mean look at the maps in California. And you know they don’t tend to — they are pretty gerrymandered. You know it works in Iowa, is one place where I’ve seen it work. But Iowa got four congressional districts and it’s a kind of a rectangle and they cut it into quarters. And you know I don’t know that you need a commission for that. But in other states it seems to be something that works better in theory than in practice. It’s hard to take the politics out of politics.

Laura Vozzella: Right, now you rolled out an ethics package and you’ve also accepted the endorsement of Bob McDonnell, who is on “60 Minutes” the other night. I don’t know if you happened to see him on there.

Ed Gillespie: I did.

Laura Vozzella: What I was struck by his statement, he certainly said he needed to do it over again, he wouldn’t take the gifts. But he also said that he made all the proper disclosures when in fact you know at the time he didn’t have to disclose gifts to family and whatnot. But paying for your daughter’s what — you know that was the loophole — paying for that was a gift to his daughter. Well Johnny Williams had met his daughter maybe one time, and there were loans to his businesses that were disclosed but they were listed as debts for medical services. And that’s sort of a stretch but it was because Johnny Williams was in a, not pharmaceutical but a supplement business. So what’s your feeling on — did he ... I know you chaired his campaign. I’m sure you’re personal friends. But was he wrong? I felt watching that show he was saying he wouldn’t do it again but he wasn’t particularly remorseful about taking the gifts.

Ed Gillespie: You know what I saw him say was that he complied with the laws of the Commonwealth at the time. I think that the Supreme Court seemed to at the end of the day side with him.

Laura Vozzella: Right.

Ed Gillespie: In that regard we’ve passed some policies in response to that since, but I believe there’s much more we need to do and I’ve unveiled a 15-point plan. I call it my “FAITH in Government for All Virginians” plan, and FAITH stands for fairness, accountability, integrity, transparency, and honesty. And the first thing I will do if elected governor of the Commonwealth we love is sign an executive order that is a zero-gift ban. No gifts at all for me, for my immediate family, for my appointees. I will also make sure that our state legislators — and I’m proud that they have joined me in calling for this — that no personal use of campaign funds. And also put an end to the bait and switch practice that elected officials have been able to use here in the Commonwealth where they raise money to run for one office and then use it to run for another office. That’s unfair to people who don’t hold elected office, makes it very difficult for them to run for office. You know they start at it at an inherent disadvantage, and we need to open up that process and make it more fair. I also have greater transparency, and I’ll have you know our departments and agencies and boards stream, live-stream meeting so that Virginians can hold us accountable, can watch. I’m going to have cabinet meetings all around the Commonwealth, just not in Richmond, so that it’s easier for people to come in and see members of my administration and hear from us and also require public comment for things like our boards of visitors for our public colleges and universities, where if they’re going to be considering raising tuition or increasing fees that they hear from students and parents and others who are affected by that. And more transparency I think will make it easier to hold us accountable. I also double the length of the lobby ban or for the duration of my administration for people who serve in my administration and I will be an honest, ethical, hardworking, principled, faithful servant leader worthy of Virginia. If I am entrusted with our governorship and these policies will help ensure that our assembly and the administration are held accountable and there is greater transparency and that people can have faith that we’re doing the people’s business.

Laura Vozzella: Now, when you unveiled that there was some pushback from folks who said, “Oh my gosh, Ed Gillespie. He’s been in government. He’s been a lobbyist back and forth. He’s been in the revolving door.” Does that mean that this is chutzpah to propose this or is that you’ve seen up close and you know what needs to be done?

Ed Gillespie: You know I think my experience working at the highest levels of government as counselor to the president of the United States in the White House and the Capitol and helping to draft the contract with America and implement it. Helping to get the first balanced federal budget that we had in 25 years, my private sector experience. I have started three successful small businesses. Kathy and I know what it’s like to put your house down as the collateral on a loan that you used to pay rent and meet payroll for the first year you open your doors, and I think all those experiences and insights that I’ve gained in my professional life help inform me and would help make me an effective governor. I think it’s important to have a governor — in particular given how dependent we remain on federal policies and federal spending — who knows how to get things done in Washington, D.C. for our fellow Virginians, who can work with a Republican majority in the House and the Senate and a Republican president and administration for policies that affect us very directly here in the Commonwealth. You know we need to make sure Norfolk remains the largest naval base in the world. I’m glad the president has made a priority of building more ships in Newport News. We need to dredge our channel. That’s an Army Corps project in the port of Virginia. We need to stop the assault on our coal sector. We need to get more of our own transportation dollars back into Virginia and spend them as we see fit. We need to have more policies that allow for more federal contracting in the private sector rather than what we’ve seen over the past eight years of insourcing and bringing everything inside government. These are policies that directly affect us and where I can be effective given my experience in the private sector. That said, Laura, one of the things we have to do in Virginia is become less dependent on federal spending and federal programs and federal policies. And that’s why I’m putting forward a plan that will allow us to diversify our economy and make it easier for start-ups and scale-ups to flourish here in Virginia. Because innovators and entrepreneurs and small businesses, they are going to show us the way for the new technologies and sectors and services that will help us diversify our economy in Virginia and we need to do that. But in the meantime I think it’s helpful to have someone who has my experience in the private sector, on Capitol Hill, and the executive branch be able to make sure that when it comes to those federal policies that so directly affect us in Virginia, that we get them right.

Laura Vozzella: Now on immigration, Corey Stewart and some others have tried to suggest that you, in advocating for the Gang of Eight compromise, that you were, while not necessarily saying you liked every aspect of that deal, were saying, “Hey I think I think the deal is a good one.” And the deal did include a pathway to citizenship, even though I think you personally have always advocated for pathway to legal status or something, a little distinction. But I think we’re in an era where any kind of compromise is viewed with great suspicion. So, I guess I’m asking two things. Is that that a fair characterization of your stance? And is that something that you have to explain in this era when people don’t necessarily want nuance or giving anything to the other side?

Ed Gillespie: Yeah, I’ve always opposed amnesty for people who have come here illegally. My father came to this country as a boy from Ireland because my grandfather found work in America as a janitor. And my parents — my father and his father, they came here legally through Ellis Island and they played by the rules and we have a lot of Virginians who have come here legally and played by the rules. And we need to respect those rules. You know even with President Bush in the White House, when he was advocating a path to citizenship, as you may know, I opposed that. Wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal saying that that’s a bridge too far and we shouldn’t reward people who have come here illegally with one of the greatest things that we can confer in the world, which is American citizenship. And so I do oppose citizenship because I do consider that to be amnesty. I do think — and I ran in my Senate race on what I think were commonsense reforms that would have been helpful at the federal level. You know on a state level we have some policies — although immigration is federal policy — but there are some things I think that are important here we had. For example Ralph Northam cast a tie-breaking vote and in support of allowing for sanctuary cities to be established in the Commonwealth of Virginia. I don’t think that’s a good idea for us. I don’t think that will make Virginia safer to allow for sanctuary cities to be created here in Virginia. So I do oppose that, and I support legislation that would not allow for our cities and counties to become sanctuaries for those here illegally. I also believe that we should not issue state issued legal identification driver’s licenses to people who are here illegally. And you know we have a challenge for Virginia’s students being able to get into our great public colleges and universities. And we need to make sure that people who are playing by the rules are first in line in that regard. And I know that young people who were brought here by their parents illegally through no fault of their own — I appreciate that. But you know we can’t ask our taxpayers to subsidize their tuition and deny it to people, to Virginians, who are here legally and are citizens of the Commonwealth. And yet both Tom Perriello and Ralph Northam support subsidized in-state tuition for people who are here illegally. So we do have some policies, relative to this in our state elections this year, and those are my views.

Laura Vozzella: Okay, and more that is — this is along the lines of the strange bedfellows of the populist era we’re in now. But Corey Stewart and Public Citizen both criticize you. Public Citizen — this was back in the Senate race over something and goes back to 2002 so you may not remember it. But they both said that you had lobbied for Tyson Foods when they were in the midst of a — there was a criminal case against them related to their use of illegal immigrant labor. And I think in the end there were the higher-ups who were acquitted although there was use of that labor. But the question was, were the company higher-ups in cahoots with it or not. But do you recall that and does that cast your immigration stance in a different light?

Ed Gillespie: You know it’s interesting. I saw there’s actually a story out today about it, where somebody from Tyson said had never worked on — on that we did retain their firm.

Laura Vozzella: Okay.

Laura Vozzella: And so my firm was retained. I’m not sure it was even relative to that issue, to be honest with you.

Laura Vozzella: Okay.

Ed Gillespie: Because I don’t recall having done any work and we had a pretty big firm. And you know at our firm we pretty much had, as is often the case, we were just, you know, list everybody under every client just because that’s the safest thing to do. You know in terms of being inside all of the lines and — but I didn’t recall it and then I saw a quote from somebody from the company today saying we did have the firm but that Ed was not involved. I’m not even sure what the issue was. I’ve been trying to find out. But it was, as you noted, 15 years ago. We had a pretty big firm, happily, and a successful firm. But I don’t remember the details of it.

Laura Vozzella: We haven’t had too much on social issues so far with the exception of — there’s been some talk of abortion. But I’m wondering where are you on gay marriage these days?

Ed Gillespie: Well you know as governor you enforce the laws and the Supreme Court has made clear that gay marriage is the law and I will enforce our laws. And you know, obviously gay marriage is the law. I don’t seek to change it. That the — I’m happy to enforce our laws in that regard.

Laura Vozzella: And on abortion, would you like to roll back some of the things that Governor McAuliffe has done by executive order, that trap the regulations that have been passed by the General Assembly then his Board of Health, grandfathered existing clinics and — I’m sorry I can’t remember there is another thing that he did to soften some of the abortion regulations that have come out of the General Assembly. Is there more to do on that front or not?

Ed Gillespie: I certainly would want to ensure the safety of women in the Commonwealth to make sure that that clinics meet health standards to reduce risk to women. As you know I’m pro-life and I do oppose abortion with exceptions for the life of the mother being in danger, rape or incest. In terms of a governorship, the authority that you have is rather limited to regulations and things like that. And I would want to make sure that we have health standards. By the way I should note I know I have a lot of friends who don’t agree with all of my exceptions, you know, in terms of my pro-life positions. And I respect that. I have a lot of friends who don’t agree with my pro-life position as a whole, and I accept that too. But I do believe there are some areas of consensus that that most Virginians would agree can be some common ground and we should look to find that.

Laura Vozzella: And going back to the gay marriage thing for just a minute. I think that the only area where we’ve seen some action on the state level post-Supreme Court is on religious freedom. And I wonder, it seems to be a difficult issue where people worry that if the government didn’t — I think there was an executive order from McAuliffe saying that the state won’t contract and use any group as a state contractor if they discriminate against people based on sexual orientation. And people come back and said, Well does that mean that Catholic Charities which you know doesn’t — the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize gay marriage. Can they then not provide services? And so how would you try to sort that out?

Ed Gillespie: Yeah. Well, first of all I believe we’re all created in the image and likeness of God. And you know I would be a governor for all Virginians and I respect people for who they are and I hope that they’ll respect me for who I am and I believe that we can guard against discrimination and at the same time protect religious freedoms. You know one of the things I think we have to be very careful about and guard against, for example, is for those religiously affiliated institutions, whether they be charities or health care providers or educational institutions, they should not be stripped of their tax-exempt status or accreditation because they are adhering to the tenets and teaching the tenets of their faith. And I worry that is going to be an effort to deny, for example, Liberty University or Christendom colleges, tax-exempt status or to deny charitable organizations that are affiliated with a church from their tax-exempt status. And I believe we can both be respectful of one another, protect against discrimination and respect people’s religious beliefs, and the right to exercise those in the Commonwealth.

Laura Vozzella: One thing — shucks. Okay, well one thing in the book that you mentioned how Ken Mehlman at the time was someone who you spoke to — after your wife — the last person you talked to at night, first thing in the morning. And he came out as gay, you know, many, many years later. And I wondered if that shaped your thinking at all on issues of gay rights and obviously he worked for a long time within the party at a time when it wasn’t too welcoming.

Ed Gillespie: You know I’m blessed by Ken’s friendship for years now, for decades at this point. And I was happy to stand by him when he made this decision and to make clear that he was gay and he talked to me about it. You know beforehand — and he’s a very good person and a very good friend. And not surprisingly, not the only gay friend I have. And so, like I said, I know that we can respect one another. We’re all created in the image and likeness of God. And at the same time, make sure that religiously affiliated organizations, churches and others are not punished for it, adhering to the tenets of their faith.

Laura Vozzella: So I’m just squeezing in one more. What’s your guilty pleasure, if you’re not busy running for governor or whatever? What do you do to have some fun?

Ed Gillespie: Well, anytime I’m with my family that’s as fun as it gets for me. But my guilty pleasure, I guess I would say, are ice cream stands, and I know the best ice cream stands all across Virginia. And there is some very, very good ones and that is kind of my weakness on the trail.

Laura Vozzella: What’s your flavor? I’m sorry, excuse me.

Ed Gillespie: Well my flavors vary. You know if there’s specials I like those. I was at Clines in Harrisonburg a couple of weeks ago and their special was cherry nut and my friend Suzanne Obenshain strongly recommended it. And it was a good recommendation.

Laura Vozzella: Great, thank you very much.

Ed Gillespie: Thank you.

Laura Vozzella: Oh, oh I was supposed to ask you. Oh I don’t think I asked that one last time. But these were fun. What did you want to be when you grow up when you were little?

Ed Gillespie: When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian. And I loved animals, still do. I loved animals then. But as it turns out, there is a lot of science involved and not necessarily my aptitude.

Laura Vozzella: Funny, thank you so much.

Ed Gillespie: Thank you.