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​Tom Perriello hosts town hall campaign event

Democratic gubernatorial candidate visits U.Va. as part of college tour ahead of June primary

<p>According to Perriello, student involvement is an “important signal” to the federal government.</p>

According to Perriello, student involvement is an “important signal” to the federal government.

Tom Perriello, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Fifth Congressional District representative, held a town hall campaign event in the Newcomb Ballroom Wednesday as part of a weeklong tour of Virginia colleges and universities.

Perriello began by introducing himself and emphasizing his higher education reform plans to the crowd of over 60 University students and community members in attendance. A Charlottesville native himself, Perriello also touched on his record as a non-profit executive, State Department employee, teacher and congressman.

According to a press release sent by Perriello’s campaign, the average Virginia college graduate enters the working world with more than $26,000 in student debt.

“We are the first campaign in Virginia history to offer two years of community college free for aspiring college students,” Perriello said. “We are also looking at reviving a refinancing program that could reduce monthly [student loan] payments by 50-100 dollars per month.”

After introducing his platform, Perriello opened up the rest of the hour for audience questions. The first question came from a student who asked about Perriello’s proposed increase of the state minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is more than double the current minimum wage.

“The myth about minimum wage is that it’s just college-aged [people]. The average age of a person working for minimum wage is actually 36 years old,” Perriello said. “If you get someone to go from $14,000 to $28,000 a year [in income], they go from collecting public assistance to paying taxes.”

Perriello also said in the several dozen instances which states have increased the minimum wage, small businesses and local restaurants have seen growth from the increased spending power of the working middle class. He said he believes treating the underlying problem of concentrated poverty is also essential for improving other issues such as the highest rate of juvenile incarceration in the country and struggling public schools in rural areas.

Questions were raised about Perriello’s record in regards to gun control and abortion rights. With both issues, he has offered different views in the past. He claimed his experience as an Eagle Scout is what originally gave him a positive view of the National Rifle Association, an organization he once called an example of “people-powered politics.” However, Perriello said the NRA has since fundamentally changed their business model, and he now supports tight background checks.

“I regret my praise. I recently called the NRA a ‘nutjob extremist organization,’” Perriello said. “I am on the side of gun safety and will continue to be.”

In regards to women’s rights, Perriello laid out a platform including support for abortion rights and better access to contraception. He said he supported Gov. Terry McAuliffe's efforts in this area, including extensive use of the governor’s veto power.

“We will continue being a brick wall against legislation against women’s and LGBT rights,” Perriello said. “I do hope that there will be room for offense as well.”

Perriello was asked about what his first legislative goals would be if he was to win the governorship. He laid out a plan that prioritized education reform, a living wage, paid medical leave and dealing with threats to clean energy.

“If the Trump administration at a federal level massively cuts clean energy and Planned Parenthood funding, we will need the state government to come in and cover it,” Perriello said. “We are basically dead last in clean energy and renewables in Virginia.”

Perriello said he was confident his “positive agenda” was energizing and engaging to people from across the spectrum.

He also said students should get involved with local and state politics, especially early in the primary process. According to Perriello, student involvement is an “important signal” to the federal government as Republicans in the House and Senate decide if they should distance themselves from President Donald Trump’s policies.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released April 11, Perriello is at 25 percent support compared to 20 percent support for his primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. However, 51 percent of Democratic voters say they are still undecided about their choice of candidate in the primary.

The Virginia Democratic primary will be held June 13, and the general gubernatorial election will be held Nov. 7.