CURTIS: Northam is the clear choice for students

Trump-endorsed extremist Ed Gillespie would hurt public education across Virginia

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University students should vote Ralph Northam at the polls on Nov. 7.

Riley Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The stakes in the upcoming gubernatorial election could not be higher for students in Virginia, and our choice on Nov. 7 is clear. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — an army doctor, a pediatric neurologist and a public servant — envisions a Virginia that works for everyone, where our values are secure and we are continually moving towards progress. Conversely, President Donald Trump-backed former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie has spent his life working against students’ interests, with an extensive record of lobbying and consulting for major corporations at the expense of Virginians. His shady record and lobbying efforts for the wealthy show where Gillespie’s priorities as governor would lie.

Specific to students, Northam’s education plan focuses on raising teacher pay, expanding access to early childhood programs, bolstering community college systems and workforce development and improving academic achievement for students. As a former professor, state senator and Lt. Governor with a record of protecting Virginia’s public education system, Northam is proudly endorsed by the Virginia Education Association. He has cast tie-breaking votes against disastrous private school vouchers and charter schools, and continues to push for increased school funding. Furthermore, Northam understands the importance of higher education in the Commonwealth firsthand — he is a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and Eastern Virginia Medical School, and his daughter is an alumna of the University.

The Gillespie education plan, however, is a copy of the flawed DeVos-Trump agenda, which focuses on school vouchers, cuts funding for schools in need and shifts public dollars into unaccountable private organizations. The DeVos family alone has contributed $105,000 in out-of-state funds to the Gillespie campaign. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also announced rollbacks of protections for students who have been survivors of sexual assault on campuses, a decision The Cavalier Daily lambasted in its Oct. 14 lead editorial. With outside money pouring in to influence Virginia's education system, it is clear that Gillespie’s proposed education plan puts special interests above students.

Worse yet, Gillespie has made hundreds of thousands of dollars working to make student loans more expensive and lobbying for policies which would make it harder for Virginia’s students to go to college. During the 2000s, Gillespie lobbied for Bank of America and the private student loan lender Nelnet to kill legislation which would have taken money away from predatory student loan companies. Gillespie has worked for Enron, big banks and predatory student loan companies, but never students. 

This election is particularly important to the University and its students as the governor appoints the Board of Visitors, which has unparalleled control of our public colleges and universities across the Commonwealth. This November, students across Virginia must reject corporate interests and lobbyists in education. Students cannot afford to elect a governor who has actively fought to put the interests of predatory student loan companies, special interests and the D.C. swamp ahead of lowering costs for college students and expanding access to public education. We cannot support Trump’s candidate for governor.

Consider that career lobbyist Gillespie’s increasingly desperate and fear-mongering campaign is currently in talks with Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors — whose disgusting and divisive rhetoric has amplified the voices of white supremacists throughout the Commonwealth — to receive his endorsement at the encouragement of Steve Bannon and other Trump aides. This comes on the heels of false and misleading TV ads that try to inaccurately link Northam with MS-13 and play on negative, bigoted stereotypes of the Latinx community. Similarly, Gillespie’s tax plan — which mirrors the failed policies enacted in Kansas — would be a disaster for Virginia and provide tax cuts for the rich. Even Republicans have called Gillespie’s plan “dishonest” and comprised of “phony math.” Gillespie is also a huge proponent of banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood. He has even received the endorsement of National Right to Life — the same organization that supported Virginia’s transvaginal ultrasound bill introduced by anti-LGBTQ Republican Lt. Governor candidate and State Sen. Jill Vogel. 

In juxtaposition, Northam has a proven track record of acting on progressive values, enacting positive changes which directly affect the lives of students. From his time as a state senator, Northam was successful in passing a prohibition on smoking in restaurants, provisions to improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay and protections for student athletes with head injuries. He also introduced several bills aimed at protecting women from intrusive regulations on abortion, safeguard LGBTQ Virginians from discrimination and lay the groundwork for expansion of renewable energy across the state. Together with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, this administration has boosted Virginia’s economy, decreased unemployment to its lowest level since 2008 at 3.8 percent and created almost 200,000 new jobs ready for the challenges of the 21st century.

In September, the chair of the College Republicans said that “Northam needs to prove he’s focused on the Commonwealth.” Northam has been and continues to do exactly this. We need a governor who isn’t afraid to take on the student loan industry with an education plan that will expand access — not one who has gotten rich making it harder and more expensive to go to college. We need a leader who will appoint leaders to the Board of Visitors with a positive, progressive vision for the University. We need a leader who is ready to work for the citizens of the Commonwealth, not for Trump and corporate interests. On Nov. 7, students must elect Ralph Northam.

Brett Curtis is a fourth-year Curry and Batten graduate student and President of the University Democrats.

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