RICHMOND — Republican Ed Gillespie wants to liberate Virginians from the “rinky-dink” sparklers and snakes that pass for Fourth of July fun in this state, contending that in the birthplace of American democracy, ordinary citizens should be free to shoot bottle rockets and Roman candles.
The GOP candidate for governor vows that if elected, he will work to legalize the higher-grade fireworks already allowed in neighboring West Virginia and Tennessee.
He unfurled the pledge just ahead of Independence Day and two weeks after his narrower-than-expected primary win against a Donald Trump-style rival, perhaps hoping to appeal to individual liberties-minded voters who had supported that rival, Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart.
“For a lot of Americans, our favorite part of celebrating the Fourth of July is the fireworks. Here in Virginia, our fireworks are pretty rinky-dink,” Gillespie says in a video released Friday, a fizzling sparkler in hand.
Standing by a country road behind a table piled high with more powerful fireworks, he continues: “But right across the border in West Virginia and Tennessee, where I am now, our neighbors get to celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks like these. In Virginia, we’re missing out on being able to create thousands of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Not to mention having some fun.”
The video then shows him lighting fireworks in the middle of a road and jogging to safety.
Democrats did not weigh in directly on the fireworks plan but used it to needle Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman and adviser to President George W. Bush, over his reluctance to take a firm stand on Republican health-care bills in Congress. Gillespie’s Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, opposes efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
“Dr. Northam likes fireworks as much as anyone, but he also wants to make sure you can afford health care in case you accidentally blow your hand off with one,” said Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel. “We’d like to know if Ed believes the Republicans’ health-care plans will actually allow for that.”
On Twitter, Virginia Democratic Party spokeswoman Christina Freundlich posted the part of the video showing Gillespie dashing down the road, but made it look like he was fleeing a block of text — #TRUMPCARE — instead of just-lit fireworks.
In a news release announcing the video, Gillespie said that he would aim to get fireworks laws changed “in time for next Fourth of July, so Virginians living in the home of our nation’s Founders can celebrate the holiday with the same freedom and liberty that millions of our fellow Americans already possess.”
Under his proposal, the fireworks would be available only to people age 18 and older. The plan would include an “opt-out” provision for localities that do not want the fireworks sold or used in their communities. Gillespie also said he would work with firefighters to adopt safety measures.
One fan of the idea was George Allen, a former Republican governor who thinks the state’s restrictions are “nanny laws.”
“I just know Tennessee has really good fireworks, and so does South Carolina, and Virginia’s — they’re just pathetic,” Allen said. “I remember we were in China maybe three years ago on a business-cultural thing, and it was during the Chinese New Year. And in middle of the night, you see fireworks shooting up just randomly. I said, ‘Look at that, they have more freedom. Here we are in a communist country.’”