By Logan Roddy, senior contributor
Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin took their bus tours through the Shenandoah Valley on Thursday to make their closing arguments before Tuesday’s gubernatorial election. Both framed the race as offering stark choices with sweeping consequences — just for different reasons, as they staked out opposing positions on education, how to spur economic growth and hot-button social issues that tend to fire up their respective bases.
McAuliffe, speaking to a crowd of more than 70 people at an afternoon rally in Harrisonburg, said democracy itself is at stake in the 2021 election and sought to motivate his base by saying some Youngkin supporters believe Donald Trump won last year’s presidential election.
“This is scary for democracy. Donald Trump did not get elected in 2020, Joe Biden got elected,” McAuliffe said. “And every time they do this they run down our democracy.”
Youngkin, addressing a packed crowd during a primetime appearance in Fishersville, called Tuesday’s election a moment to change Virginia’s trajectory. He called on supporters to ensure the pursuit of happiness isn’t “encumbered or blocked by self-centered politicians who only want to take care of their own future, and don’t care about who sent them there.”
“On one side of the ballot is Terry McAuliffe and big government control, and on the other side of the ballot is Virginians. It’s you,” Youngkin said.
Beyond tying each other to the national political parties, both candidates ticked through their main talking points.
The debate over schools
Youngkin promised Virginia schools would never be closed again and that in-person education —five days a week — would continue unflinchingly. He also said he’d fund the largest education budget in Virginia history, focusing on raising teacher salaries, creating new facilities, and enhancing special education.
Dissatisfied with how Maryland and North Carolina have outpaced Virginia in allowing charter schools as alternatives to public schools, he said he would support “the most aggressive charter school program you have ever seen.” Maryland has 140, North Carolina has 190 and Virginia has eight.
“So on Day 1 we’re gonna announce 20 innovation charter schools as a down payment, and we’re gonna close that gap over four years,” Youngkin told the crowd of hundreds crammed into the Augusta Expo in Fishersville.
Other parts of the candidates’ public education platforms actually align. McAuliffe and Youngkin agree that Virginia public teachers’ salaries need to increase.
McAuliffe noted that Virginia is “50th out of 50 states on average teacher pay, compared to the average pay of our citizens.” He promised he would raise their pay above the national average for the first time in Virginia history.
“We’re the 10th wealthiest state in America — it’s disgraceful,” McAuliffe said. “And you wonder why we’re down 1,100 teachers here today. We’ve got to keep the best teachers here.”
He also said that because of the disparity between students of color and their white teachers, which are 50% and 80%, respectively, he’s going to work to diversify the teaching ranks.
“If you teach for five years in a high demand area, we will be the first state in America that will pay room, board and tuition at any college or university or HBCU here in the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said.
He also said he’d work to get every child in the state access to broadband internet and pledged that all 41,000 at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds would get access to pre-kindergarten programs.
Youngkin, meanwhile, assured his audience that his administration would emphasize accelerated math classes in schools and teaching all of history: “the good and the bad,” as he put it. He also promised he would ban teaching critical race theory, an academic framework that focuses on ways in which racism has been systemically embedded in social systems and institutions.
“We will not teach our children to view everything through a lens of race, and then pit them against each other,” Youngkin said. “We’re all made in our maker’s image. And to pit kids against one another steals their dreams.”
Outside of the Harrisonburg Democrats’ headquarters on West Market Street hours earlier, McAuliffe also addressed critical race theory, saying the theory is not taught in Virginia schools, “nor has it ever been taught.”
“It is a racist dog whistle, and I am sick and tired of Glenn Youngkin trying to divide parents against parents, parents against teachers, and using our children as political pawns in his campaign,” McAuliffe said.
Both candidates did agree however that empowering the state’s workforce through the education system is a chief concern, which includes giving children paths to prosper in a career whether or not they choose to go to college.
Spurring Virginia’s economy
If elected, Youngkin made another first-day promise, saying he would declare the largest tax refund in the history of Virginia, including eliminating the grocery tax, suspending the gas tax for one year, and doubling everybody’s standard deduction. However, Youngkin didn’t tell the crowd how he plans to offset that revenue and keep his promise about the increased investment in education and teacher salaries while keeping the budget balanced.
Both candidates said they were going to stand up for our veterans, although Youngkin went into more detail as to how.
“One out of 11 Virginians is a veteran,” Youngkin said. “And we’re one of a handful of states that taxes their retirement. That’s not the way you say thank you. So we’re going to work over three years to get up to 40,000 dollars of our veterans’ retirement benefits that we will not tax in Virginia.”
In terms of business, Youngkin said he supports Virginia’s Right to Work law, which bars employers from requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment. He cited the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which said that eliminating it would cost $11 billion in investment and 40,000 jobs.
He also promised new small businesses a one-year tax holiday and said he would eliminate 25% of what he described as “job-killing regulations.”
“The Virginia code has 37,000 pages in it,” Youngkin said. “How can any business comply with that?”
McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2013-’17, reminded Democrats in Harrisonburg of what he called an economic transformation that took place during his term as 1,100 new businesses opened.
“We got Amazon the biggest deal in 50 years. We got H2Q here. We got Google, Facebook, Microsoft, they all came to our state,” McAuliffe said.
What else each candidate stressed
McAuliffe also highlighted how he signed the first federal offshore wind turbine project in America, currently with two turbines off the shore of Virginia Beach, and “we’ve got the permits in for 185 more.”
One of the biggest differences McAuliffe cited between his positions and Youngkin’s is the emphasis on addressing climate change.
“So I’m calling for 100% clean energy here in Virginia by 2035,” McAuliffe said. “But just remember, I’m running against the guy who said the other day he’s not responsible for it. Well, I don’t know who’s responsible for it then.”
He also spoke about the work he’s done to keep abortions legal in the state and that he believes Youngkin has plans to undermine that.
“Every woman should understand that for 50 years we always believed that Roe v Wade would be protected by the United States Supreme Court. That is now over,” McAuliffe said. “It is a 6-to-3 Donald Trump Supreme Court. In Texas today, abortions are illegal.”
Youngkin, though, didn’t mention abortion. He did emphasize his support for the Second Amendment, for which both the county commissions in Augusta and Rockingham declared their support over the last two years by voting to call their counties Second Amendment sanctuaries.
Youngkin also said he’d support law enforcement by raising salaries and providing more funding for equipment and training, and protecting qualified immunity. He also said he’d “fire the entire parole board and we’ll start over.”
Both agreed on one major message
At the end of their rallies, both candidates emphasized the importance of voting. They urged those in attendance to vote if they hadn’t already, volunteer at the polls, tell their friends to vote, and put signs in their yards.
“So game on folks, bring it home, get your boyfriends, girlfriends, whatever you got, I don’t care,” McAuliffe said. “You got a right to vote. We got five days to win this election.”
Youngkin gave a similar pitch to his supporters.
“My fellow Virginians, this is it. Five days, where Virginia will make a choice,” Youngkin said. “Are we gonna continue to veer left and become California East, or are we heading right?”
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