The University Democrats hosted a forum Saturday in which Virginia gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello spoke on a range of issues including the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and appointments to the University Board of Visitors.
The candidates responded to a number of questions submitted by the University Democrats and University students as well as students from colleges throughout Virginia. Both candidates answered the same set of questions, though they spoke separately without any debate between the two. Each was allotted an hour to provide responses and discuss their campaign platforms.
Northam was first asked about his position on the planned construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline by Dominion Power Company. Northam said the construction of the ACP was not a matter of state or regional politics, but federal regulation.
“We have regulatory processes in place and we can't usurp them as it would look bad for small business development,” Northam said. “Ultimately it is a federal process across multiple states and [Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] will make a final decision on the matter.”
During Northam’s response, he was interrupted by a group of protesters in opposition to the pipeline who demanded that he state whether or not he was in favor of the construction of the ACP. Audience members offered both support and opposition to the protesters as some applauded and cheered while others booed their actions.
In response to the protesters, Northam said he appreciated their efforts to voice their opinions but said he already stated his position.
“I commend these young ladies for voicing and expressing their opinions as it important to exercise freedom of speech in a democracy,” Northam said. “However, I already previously stated my stance upon the issue.”
In contrast, Perriello later said he was in opposition to the ACP and cited both economic and environmental factors for his stance on the matter.
“I am against the pipeline due to climate change and economics,” Perriello said. “Five or 10 times more jobs would result from investment in renewable energy resources such as wind or solar energy.”
The ACP is a natural gas pipeline proposed by Dominion Resources that would originate in West Virginia, span much of central and southern Virginia and end in southeastern North Carolina. Areas in the potential path of the ACP include nearby Buckingham and Nelson counties.
Controversy surrounding the construction of the ACP has arisen out of concerns relating to its potential environmental impact and legitimacy as a safe alternative to fossil fuels. Prominent Virginia politicians, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe, have voiced support for the pipeline on the grounds of economic advancement and energy security.
Perriello said he has not accepted any funding from Dominion, but he would be willing to cooperate with them to develop new solutions.
“I have refused any money from Dominion or electric utility,” Perriello said. “Although, I would meet with them but my concern would be with their ideas, not money.”
On the ability to appoint members to the University Board of Visitors, Northam said he valued the importance of a background in education and business with regards to potential appointees and his willingness to appoint University students and graduates.
“I would definitely appoint students and recent graduates due to my high esteem for the U.Va. community,” Northam said. “They must have experience in education and business, the ability to attract good faculty members and keep costs low and affordable.”
Perriello also said he would be willing to appoint graduate students, but that it was important for a potential appointee to cooperate with the General Assembly.
“I would be willing to appoint graduate students of U.Va. and would choose people who understand education … and the importance of a partnership between the state legislature and public universities,” Perriello said. “A very important aspect of a Board is its willingness to cooperate and negotiate funding.”
The Board currently appoints one student as a non-voting member for a one-year term. Fourth-year College student Bryanna Miller is set to start her term June 1.
The Democratic primary will take place Tuesday, June 13.