Virginia gubernatorial candidates Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam denounced the actions of the white nationalists from the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally while speaking as guests at the Virginia Association of Counties Monday morning.
Addressing the crowd at the Doubletree Hotel in Charlottesville, Gillespie and Northam both expressed their disgust at the rally’s motives and participants, and focused on the way the state as a whole was affected.
“That, that rally, may have been in Virginia, but it was not of Virginia” Gillespie said. “We reject it across the board.”
Northam echoed Gillespie with similar sentiments.
“This is not what Virginia, and it’s not what Charlottesville is about,” Northam said.
Gillespie said he rejects the idea that the people involved in the rally followed any unifying political position, or that they fall on the political spectrum — Democrat, Republican or otherwise.
“These people who came into our Commonwealth do not fall on that spectrum,” Gillespie said. “Their views are a twisted mindset focused on oppressing one part of us.”
Northam responded not only to the acts of violence at the rally, but also to the response by President Donald Trump (R) in the following days.
The Democratic candidate called for “anybody that’s in elected office whether that be the President or a school board member and anybody running for office to denounce it, and also to denounce the President for saying these individuals, these white supremacists, were fine people.”
At a press conference on Aug. 15, Trump said there was “blame on both sides” for the violence that ensued and said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the protests.
Numerous Republican and Democrats alike have criticized Trump’s comments.
Both candidates reaffirmed their commitment to the Commonwealth, and promised to work to represent all those in the state regardless of their party. “I will be a governor for all Virginians,” Gillespie said.
When asked about how he would tackle problems in the state, Gillespie said that people campaign how they will govern. “I’m realistic and honest on what I say we can and can’t get done,” he said. “I have a sense of urgency on all of these things.”
Northam stressed the importance of inclusiveness in business and society for the state.
“Our doors have to be open and our lights on, and that the way it will be as long as I have anything to do with it,” Northam said. “We’re inclusive in Virginia, we live in a diverse society, so our lights are on, our doors are open, and we welcome people to the Commonwealth of Virginia and welcome people to Charlottesville.”
In the policy segment of the speeches, Gillespie tended to talk more about business plans for his administration while Northam focused on healthcare. Gillespie’s policy plans include giving authority back to the local governments of the state.
“The government that governs closest to the people is the government that governs most responsibly,” Gillespie said. “Under a Gillespie administration, you will have a partner in governing in Richmond.”
Gillespie also promised to “be resistant to the federal government imposing unfunded mandates” on the state, and in return not to impose unfunded mandates on local governments.
“If the government closest to the people decides that what they already have is best,” Gillespie said. “I will not criticize that decision.”
In contrast, Northam’s focused his speech on social programs like skills-based education and the national opioid crisis.
“We have always been dependent on military and government contracts,” Northam said. “But resources aren’t what they used to be.”
Northam said the state needs to identify jobs in expanding fields like STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and to “train our workforce for those jobs.”
Northam also called the opioid crisis the “most pressing challenge in the commonwealth” and said he wants to expand services in mental healthcare and law enforcement to pursue alternatives other than prison time for offenders.
On healthcare, Northam said “no Virginian, no family, should be one illness away from financial demise or death.”
Northam described the cost of such healthcare as being something that will “drive the commonwealth and the country to its knees.”
A Roanoke College Poll shows Northam leading Gillespie by seven points among likely voters, 43 percent to 36 percent.
Election day is Nov. 7.