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Party loyalty becomes debate issue for Dems

5/12/2017, 6:47 a.m.
The two men seeking to capture the Democratic gubernatorial nomination traded political barbs over their party bona fides during a ...
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, left, makes a point during Tuesday night’s Democratic candidate debate in Highland Springs as his opponent, former Congressman Tom Perriello, waits to speak. The two are vying for the Democratic nomination for governor in a June 13 primary election. Ava Reaves

Mr. Perriello said the issue “goes to the heart of understanding why Dr. Northam voted for Republican George W. Bush twice — in 2000 and 2004. Trickle-down economics that he has supported in the past does not create growth.”

Murmurs of “oooooh” arose from the audience as Mr. Perriello continued. “I think leadership is about saying you can’t get something for free. You have to pay for the investments in education.”

Lt. Gov. Northam was denied a rebuttal as debate moderators Bill Fitzgerald of WTVR in Richmond and Barbara Ciara of WTKR in Norfolk moved on to another question.

However the lieutenant governor seized the opportunity to bring up a 2009 article published in The Washington Times in which Mr. Perriello was characterized as a Libertarian who became a Democrat only when he decided to run for Congress in 2008. He narrowly defeated the Republican incumbent to win the 5th District congressional seat. He was defeated two years later in the 2010 election.

As Mr. Perriello denied that he is a recent convert to the Democratic Party, Lt. Gov. Northam also brought up an interview Mr. Perriello reportedly had on FOX News in which he touted his record for voting with Republicans 60 percent of the time while serving in Congress.

“People who live in glass houses should not be throwing stones because sometimes the glass, when it breaks, can get very sharp,” Lt. Gov. Northam quipped as the audience roared with laughter.

The two men also differed on Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state and on charter school expansion.

Mr. Perriello expressed opposition to expanding charter schools, saying investments should be made in Virginia’s public schools. Lt. Gov. Northam said charter schools on a regional basis could be a future approach, but said immediate priorities should include increasing public schoolteacher pay and expanding universal pre-kindergarten access.

On Virginia’s right-to-work law, Lt. Gov. Northam suggested a repeal or change is unfeasible given the current majority GOP makeup of the state legislature.

“I think rather than pick fights that we perhaps can’t win right now, we need to talk about how (we can) help labor,” including by increasing the minimum wage and requiring paid sick leave for workers.

Mr. Perriello labeled the law as an anti-growth strategy and said, if elected, he would attempt to change it.

“Ultimately, what we need to understand is that things like the establishment of the 40-hour work week and the weekend came for a reason and that was because people were able to organize.”

The debate will be re-broadcast at 11:35 p.m. Saturday, May 13, on WTVR-CBS6.