In his bid for the Democratic nomination for Virginia governor, Tom Perriello said he would make community college free, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and confront President Donald Trump’s controversial policies on immigration and other key issues.
Perriello, a former U.S. Representative who has won an endorsement from Vermont Senator and former-presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders – discussed those topics last Monday night during a town-hall at Virginia Union University in Richmond. The Charlottesville native promised to combat President Donald Trump’s administration and help create a “community of conscience” – one of several comments that received applause from the crowd.
Perriello also touted his support of the Affordable Care Act – otherwise known as “Obamacare” – when he served in the U.S. Congress in 2009-11. Trump has vowed to repeal and replace the ACA and Perriello credited demonstrations such as the Women’s March on Washington for preventing that from happening.
“Five months ago, people could have curled up on the couch and cried, and I’m sure all of us did. But instead, people decided to say, ‘No, this isn’t who we are as a Commonwealth; this is not something we are going to stand by passively and watch,’” Perriello said. “Because of these efforts, because of the marches, because of the protests, because of the stories, today the Affordable Care Act remains in place.”
Perriello also discussed his hope to provide free community college to Virginia residents, calling it a “good investment.” He said trickle-down economics – the notion that tax cuts for the wealthy will generate benefits for poorer people – doesn’t work.
“What the evidence does show you is when you actually increase wages and invest in people, then you do get growth locally, and more growth for small business,” Perriello said. “This is not something we’re doing out of the goodness of our hearts. We’re doing this because it’s a good investment strategy.”
A big part of Perriello’s speech was focused on establishing himself as a viable candidate in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Perriello announced his candidacy in January when it appeared that Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam would be uncontested in seeking the nomination.
Perriello encouraged supporters to knock on doors and volunteer on his behalf to spread the word about his campaign. That was a critical strategy: in January, only one in five Virginians even knew his name, according to a poll conducted in February by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
Last week, a new Watson Center poll had Perriello and Northam tied; each candidate had support from 26 percent of Democratic-leaning voters. Almost half of the people polled were undecided.
At the VUU event, Perriello had few critical things to say about Northam. Instead, he mentioned issues on which the two candidates agreed – although Perriello said he was the first to take those positions.
“We came out and led the way on standing up for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. A few weeks later, we saw (Northam) and others court that decision,” Perriello said. “Same thing with criminal justice reform and debt-free community college. I think what we need right now is someone who’s actually leading a policy agenda.”
Perriello echoes many of the same positions Sen. Sanders espoused during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. On Tuesday, Sanders issued a statement endorsing Perriello.
“We need to elect progressives at every level of government if we are going to beat back the dangerous agenda of the Trump Administration and its Republican allies,” the statement said. “Tom is committed to fighting the rigged economy and income inequality. He was the first major statewide candidate in Virginia to run on a $15 minimum wage and the first to say two years of community college should be tuition-free.”
Perriello will face off against Northam in the Democratic primary election on June 13. Northam, a pediatric neurologist, has the support of outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe, most Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation.
On the Republican side, three candidates are vying for the nomination for governor: former chairman of the Republican National Committee Ed Gillespie, state Sen. Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach and Corey Stewart, chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and Trump’s former state campaign manager.