RICHMOND — The candidates for Virginia lieutenant governor sparred sharply in a Thursday night debate on guns, abortion and the economy, with each accusing the other of occupying extreme positions that would threaten the commonwealth's future.
State Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) said Democrat Justin Fairfax's support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage would stifle the state's economy, which she said was already sputtering under outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).
Fairfax, touting an announcement earlier in the day that Facebook would invest $1 billion in a Richmond-area data center, said Vogel would scare off new businesses with her hard-line stance on abortion.
Vogel said Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, held positions on health care that are to the left of his Democratic ticketmates: Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who is running for governor, and Attorney General Mark R. Herring, who is seeking reelection.
Fairfax said Vogel was to the right of the National Rifle Association, which earlier in the day unexpectedly came out in favor of restrictions on "bump stocks," devices that allow a semiautomatic rifle to mimic the rapid discharge of a fully automatic weapon.
Bob Holsworth, a moderator at the hour-long debate at the University of Richmond's School of Law, kicked things off with a question about guns, an issue that he said took on new urgency after a shooting in Las Vegas left 58 concertgoers dead and hundreds injured.
Holsworth noted that Vogel's website boasts she introduced more pro-gun legislation than any other senator. He asked if after Las Vegas, she saw the need for stricter gun laws, including restrictions on bump stocks.
In 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Vogel said she questioned whether certain weapons should be in the hands of ordinary citizens. But she later dismissed her remarks as a momentary, emotional reaction, and reverted to her staunch pro-gun stance.
There was no wavering this time.
"I'm not running for lieutenant governor to take anybody's rights away," Vogel said.
She called the shooting a "tragedy" but also said it was too soon to draw conclusions about what might have prevented it. Mental-health issues might have contributed to it, she said.
She also argued that stricter gun laws enacted during the Clinton administration did not reduce gun violence and said tighter rules could make it harder for victims of crimes — such as women facing domestic abuse — to protect themselves.
"All it does is take guns away from the people who are victims," she said.
Holsworth asked Fairfax about his support for a higher minimum wage, noting a recent University of Washington study that found low-wage workers in Seattle saw their hours trimmed and pay dip after that city imposed a $13-an-hour floor.
Fairfax said another study came to a different conclusion. He also said that given how reliant the economy is on consumer spending, higher wages would be a boost. At the same time, he talked up community college training programs as a means of lifting workers into "middle-skill" jobs.
"You have to give people means to have economic mobility," he said.
Vogel and Fairfax also tangled over abortion. Vogel, a state senator, sponsored a 2012 bill that would have required most women who get abortions to first undergo a vaginal ultrasound.
Fairfax said the measure, lampooned nationwide, had made Virginia a national laughingstock and was meant to "shame" women who were having abortions. Vogel said the bill would only have codified what was already standard medical procedure.