The Democratic candidates for Virginia lieutenant governor faced off Sunday in Springfield, nine days ahead of the party’s primary, each trying to distinguish himself from the Republican ticket and to create distance between each other on issues such as gun rights and climate change.
While candidates Aneesh Chopra and state Sen. Ralph Northam (Norfolk) were in agreement about their vision for the state’s second-highest office — from Medicaid expansion and equal rights for gay citizens to women’s health care — Chopra said Northam’s voting record does not reflect a commitment to strengthening gun laws.
Northam challenged that assertion, touting his D rating from the National Rifle Association.
“They’re not a big fan of mine,” Northam said, referring to the NRA. “They don’t even bother coming through my door. I have a good record on gun violence and I will continue to be outspoken.”
The Fairfax County Democratic Committee sponsored the hour-long debate ahead of the June 11 primary, which also will determine the Democratic candidate for attorney general. Businessman Terry McAuliffe is the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
The Democratic lieutenant governor nominee will face Republican E.W. Jackson, a Chesapeake minister, in the general election this fall.
Chopra and Northam discussed how they would bring their career and public office experiences to the position.
Chopra, who served as secretary of technology under Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and was the first chief technology officer under President Obama, told the audience of about 200 that he would focus on innovation and entrepreneurship as a way to expand economic opportunity in the state. He said he would strive to train Virginians to work in high-skilled, high-paying jobs.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, said he would fight against Republicans on legislation restricting access to women’s health care, and that he thinks environmental priorities such as the Chesapeake Bay are crucial issues for the next lieutenant governor.
The candidates also said they take seriously the fact that the position serves as the all-important partisan tie-breaker in an evenly divided state Senate.
“I intend to use every parliamentary maneuver available to make sure our legislature reflects Democratic values,” Chopra said.
Northam said he would put Democrats back in charge of key committees in the Senate, positions lost when Republicans effectively gained control of the chamber with current Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling tipping the balance slightly in favor of the GOP.
Northam said he would work to repeal recent legislation requiring ultrasound examinations before a woman has an abortion along with laws creating stricter rules for abortion clinics, and he said he would continue the Democrats’ fight against passage of a bill that would grant “personhood” status to the unborn.
On the environment, Chopra prioritized the need for renewable sources of energy and said climate change is the most important issue for Virginians. Northam reiterated his opposition to offshore drilling and uranium mining in Southside Virginia.
Both candidates said they were interested in further gun control, vowing to work to advance legislation on universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Chopra said he would focus on implementing existing gun laws, and Northam said he thinks it is time to discuss the role of mental health in access to guns.
On education, Northam said he would work to ensure that Virginia students had “first dibs” on access to the state’s public universities. Chopra said he would establish incentives for colleges to control rising tuition costs.