As the governor’s campaign winds down, here’s a look back at the positions Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin have taken on significant policy issues.
The primary topic in Virginia’s governor contest is public education. However, in the last weeks of the campaign, both candidates have shifted their attention away from financing formulas and school building — two of the most serious issues confronting schools throughout the Commonwealth — and toward controversial literature and other cultural flashpoints.
First, the fundamentals. McAuliffe launched his campaign with a six-page plan promising “the highest increase in education spending in Virginia history.” He has pledged additional financing to boost teacher pay beyond the national average, expand preschool access, and fully implement the Virginia Board of Education’s Standards of Quality – recommendations for staffing ratios, class size, and other school resources.
Youngkin’s “Day One” proposal is less detailed, although he has pledged to create at least 20 charter schools around Virginia to “provide parents choice.” He’s also demanded that every school in the state hire a law enforcement officer or risk losing state money.
Youngkin’s commitment to outlaw critical race theory, on the other hand, has been the campaign’s focal point. The mainly academic notion isn’t included in Virginia’s statewide learning standards, but it’s often used to refer to larger equality initiatives or teachings that concentrate on past occurrences of racism. One father in Loudoun County, for example, claimed that his second-grade daughter had heard Christopher Columbus enslaved and slaughtered indigenous people. Conservatives refer to another example: a “Antiracism 101” session presented on the Virginia Department of Education’s YouTube channel as part of a state equity conference for educators and school officials, which contained a slide labeled “interrogating whiteness.”
“Critical race theory has infiltrated our educational system, and we must eradicate it,” Youngkin stated in August, pledging to do so “on day one.” His campaign has vowed to “stand up for teachers and parents,” and he has backed a Loudoun County instructor who was punished after speaking out against the district’s policy mandating transgender children to be addressed using the pronouns with which they identify. He has also promised to include financing for all five of Virginia’s historically black colleges and institutions in his budgets.
Youngkin has also chastised McAuliffe for vetoing a measure in 2017 that would have compelled school districts to inform parents when children are given “sexually explicit” reading materials. The bill was inspired by Fairfax County residents’ resistance to Toni Morrison’s “Beloved.” “I don’t believe parents should be instructing schools what they should educate kids,” McAuliffe answered.
McAuliffe has mainly disregarded Youngkin’s criticisms on critical race theory as racist, referring to them as “a dog whistle” at a recent roundtable discussion. In his closing advertising, Youngkin has been accused of “wanting to outlaw books by notable Black writers.”
The economy, employment, and taxes
Both candidates are portraying themselves as job creators, with McAuliffe citing his record of securing major economic development projects during his first term and Youngkin claiming a fresh viewpoint as someone who just left the corporate sector for politics.
Building on Democrats’ drive to make Virginia more welcoming to employees and executives, McAuliffe says he’ll force companies to provide paid sick leave and family medical leave, both of which have been addressed in the Democratic-led General Assembly but have yet to be widely adopted. He has also advocated for accelerating scheduled hikes in the state’s minimum wage, with the goal of raising it to $15 per hour by 2024. In terms of labor organization, McAuliffe wants to expand collective bargaining rights to state workers, but he has indicated that if he wins a second term, Virginia’s right-to-work statute would not be repealed.
Youngkin believes it is not a sure thing, adding that McAuliffe previously said that if right-to-work legislation reached his desk, he would sign it.
Youngkin has focused on cost-of-living problems and vows to slash tax bills since he has limited opportunity to challenge Virginia’s business environment given the state’s top position from CNBC. He has advocated increasing the standard deduction for state income taxes, one-time tax refunds, curbs on “runaway property taxes,” and the elimination of the state’s groceries tax. Youngkin has also lobbied against COVID-19-related company closures.
Both campaigns have released reports from political friends that say their opponents’ economic policies are mathematically unsustainable.
McAuliffe has said that Youngkin’s tax plans, notably the GOP nominee’s desire to eliminate the state income tax entirely, will surely blow up the state budget and result in significant service cutbacks. Youngkin has asserted that McAuliffe’s aggressive spending plans cannot be funded by current receipts and would need tax increases.
The criminal justice system
Youngkin’s campaign has made crime and police a focal point of his general election campaign, claiming that Democrats have made the state less secure by passing a spate of criminal justice changes last year.
His campaign claims criminal figures showing that homicides reached a 20-year high last year, despite the fact that the total crime rate actually declined, and in each instance, the legislation in issue had not yet gone into force.
Youngkin has spoken little about what he plans to do as governor on the topic. In addition to requiring a police presence in every school, he has promised to dismiss the parole board, which was the subject of a disputed state Inspector General’s Office inquiry exposing infractions of rules and procedures in the release of a series of dangerous criminals. He also claims he would “totally finance law enforcement,” but he hasn’t specified what that entails.
Meanwhile, McAuliffe has revealed plans to continue the criminal justice reform measures launched last year. This includes pledges to reduce mandatory minimum sentences, recruit more public defenders, support police accreditation efforts, and introduce new rehabilitation programs in state prisons, including a nursery program for convicts with newborn children.
Instead of firing the parole board, he says he wants to extend access to the program, which the state disbanded in 1995.
McAuliffe also supports a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, which has yet to gain enough Democratic support to pass the legislature. Youngkin has vowed to relax weapons prohibitions.
Both guys said they want more money for neighborhood violence prevention initiatives. Both now say they oppose rescinding qualified immunity for police officers accused of misbehavior, something McAuliffe indicated he supported during the primary but reversed after his first debate with Youngkin.
Any discussion of health in Virginia’s governor’s campaign has mostly centered on two issues: COVID-19 and abortion.
McAuliffe and Youngkin have publicly sparred about methods like as masks and vaccines, which are still critical in attempts to halt the epidemic. McAuliffe has advocated requiring masks in school facilities and has published a proposal to increase vaccination rates, which includes using federal bailout funds to push private firms to require vaccines.
Youngkin, on the other hand, has said unequivocally that “a statewide school mask requirement should not exist” in Virginia. He’s also opposed vaccination requirements, but he’s urged Virginians to get their injections on their own time.
Abortion has also become a major campaign issue for McAuliffe after Texas essentially outlawed the practice. At the same time, the Supreme Court decided to consider a case that might pose a severe threat to Roe v. Wade, its historic abortion rights ruling from 1973. With access possibly under jeopardy, Democrats have taken advantage of the situation to underscore the necessity of specific state safeguards.
“I’ll say it again to every woman watching tonight: I will preserve your rights,” McAuliffe stated during one of the September debates. He’s referenced his own record in vetoing legislation that would have cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and he’s backed recently enacted bills that would have repealed many of the state’s abortion regulations. In a radio interview, he also said that he would not have vetoed a contentious proposed law by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, that would have relaxed some rules on late-term abortions (though Politifact described it as a flip-flop on previous statements).
Youngkin, for one, has said that he is “unabashedly pro-life.” In discussions, he has said that he would support the return of certain abortion restrictions, as well as a measure that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape and incest.
Other health concerns have received little attention from either campaign, despite McAuliffe’s proposals to enhance Medicaid, increase health care access, and cut medication prices. Youngkin has advocated for investments in the state’s troubled mental health facilities.
Climate change and rising sea levels
McAuliffe has established a thorough strategy for dealing with climate change, citing President Joe Biden’s comment that “climate change is the existential danger to civilization” and stating that a transition to clean energy is necessary “to safeguard Virginians from the long-term hazards of climate change.”
Youngkin, on the other hand, has taken a cautious stance on the issue, despite widespread scientific agreement that carbon emissions are a main cause of climate change. During an October roundtable discussion at Norfolk State University, Youngkin said that although he was aware that climate change was a problem, especially in Hampton Roads, he had no idea what was causing it. When asked whether “humans have any part at all in the warming of the world,” he dodged the issue, referring to it as “one of these things that, truthfully, people are trying to exploit to divide people.”
Both candidates have underlined the need of financing to address sea level rise in Hampton Roads, which is rising at the highest pace on the East Coast. Both have also emphasized the potential of a project that would pump treated wastewater back into the Potomac aquifer to compensate for sinking land.
Youngkin has criticized the state government of not doing enough to assist coastal communities in dealing with increasing sea levels, and has committed to form an independent committee to gather money and contract for projects in the area. He also hailed a referendum on real estate taxes that Virginia Beach residents would confront on Tuesday in order to fund flood protection infrastructure.
McAuliffe has stated that he will seek federal grant funding to assist with the issue, prioritize the restoration of wetlands that can serve as natural coastal protections, and pursue a full coastal study of the state with the United States Army Corps of Engineers, which has been stalled at the federal level. He has also said that during his last tenure, he was in charge of Virginia’s first moves toward joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate carbon market that sets a price on carbon emissions and then redistributes the revenues back to the states.
Virginia has raised $64 million for flood mitigation projects since it started participating in carbon auctions this year.
Youngkin and McAuliffe are diametrically opposed to Virginia’s present path of shifting the electric grid away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.
In a discussion on September 28, Youngkin said that the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act is “unworkable” and that he would not have signed it. The bill ordered that Appalachian Power and Dominion Energy propose considerable quantities of solar and wind installations, as well as placed binding energy efficiency and renewable portfolio criteria on both utilities, among other things.
During a previous debate on September 16, he stated that Virginia should “embrace all aspects of power generation — wind, solar, nuclear, and our clean-burning natural gas,” and warned that hastening the transition to renewables would result in “blackouts and brownouts, as well as an unreliable energy grid.” He also attacked the expense of transitioning away from fossil fuels, claiming that it would raise consumers’ power rates by up to $1,000 per year. (State regulators agree that rates would be raised, but predict a much lesser increase of $800 per year.)
Meanwhile, McAuliffe has endorsed the Clean Economy Act and said that he would want to see the 2050 carbon-free target pushed back to 2035.
In an issue brief on renewable energy and climate change, he committed to enhance energy efficiency by improving the standards required of the state’s two main electric companies, expand commercial and residential solar, and speed transportation electrification. He also indicated support for restructuring portions of Virginia’s electric utility regulatory system to be more outcomes-based, urging the state to “rebuild the incentive structures that drive” Appalachian Power and Dominion.
McAuliffe has consistently portrayed sustainable energy as a net benefit for Virginia, stating that “when I think of clean energy, I think of employment” and underlining the idea of Hampton Roads becoming an offshore wind center.
Throughout the campaign, McAuliffe has stressed his participation in restoring the voting rights of more than 173,000 felons, which he claims is more than any other governor in the country.
If re-elected, he says he would go even farther and seek a constitutional amendment that will automatically restore voting rights, bringing Virginia in step with the majority of the rest of the country.
Youngkin’s campaign has criticized McAuliffe’s voting rights initiatives, saying that the measure made it easier for ex-offenders to get their guns rights restored as well.
McAuliffe has also said that he will seek other safeguards for LGBTQ Virginians, such as anti-bullying legislation for kids and the removal of a so-called “conscience clause” that allows state-funded adoption agencies to decline to assist LGBTQ persons.
Youngkin has mainly avoided commenting on the matter, although he did tell the Associated Press that he felt “called to love everyone.” When asked whether he wanted to express support for same-sex marriage, he responded no. The interview was then suddenly terminated by Youngkin’s crew.