Jobs, transportation are hot topics at first gubernatorial debate

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Print this page Bernard A. Niemeier, publisher, Virginia Business

HOT SPRINGS – Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates said economic development and transportation funding would be priorities of their administrations when they met for their first debate Saturday morning.

Democrat R. Creigh Deeds repeatedly emphasized the need for, “opportunity, prosperity and hope among Virginians.”  Similarly, Repubican Bob McDonnell emphasized, “jobs, transportation and economic growth.”

McDonnell repeatedly criticized Deeds for his lack of a transportation plan.  Deeds insisted that McDonnell’s plan would, “Rob from Peter to pay Paul,” and said a bipartisan plan should be created after the election. McDonnell recently released a plan that included privatizing Virginia’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, using tax revenue from the Port of Virginia’s growth and sales-tax collections in Northern Virginia to fund transportation. 

Deeds said that he would make solving transportation problems the top priority of this first year as governor.

Despite the recession, Virginia continues to pile up accolades as the a top state for business, with three major rankings being announced over the past month from CNBC, U.S. News & World Report and Pollina Corporate Real Estate Inc.  Issues like transportation and funding for economic development initiatives will weigh heavily on the next governor’s agenda to keep up the state’s business-friendly reputation.

The Virginia Bar Association traditionally hosts the first major debate of each political season at its summer conference held at The Homestead Resort in Hot Springs.  This year’s debate was moderated by Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

This year’s election is a rematch between the two candidates. McDonnell became Virginia’s attorney general four years ago, winning over Deeds by a 360-vote margin in the closest statewide election in modern Virginia history.

Media coverage of this year’s debate increased substantially, with more than 50 press credentials being issued, compared to about 30 for last year’s senatorial debate between Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican Jim Gilmore. 

Not only is this year’s election projected to be much closer, but national interest in Virginia’s political outcomes has shot up in the wake of last fall’s presidential election, when Virginia chose a democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.  Deeds is vying to become the state’s third democratic governor in a row, following the legacy of Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and former governor Mark R. Warner. McDonnell hopes to return the governor’s mansion to the Republicans.

The candidates took the stage shortly after the scheduled 11:00 a.m. start time.  The rules of the debate allowed questions prepared by Smolla, questions by the candidates and questions from the audience and online viewers.

Questions focused primarily on the economic plans for Virginia, transportation funding, energy, social issues, and judicial selection in Virginia.  Answers were mostly along traditional party lines.  Differences between candidates were more pronounced when discussing their views of each other’s records and qualifications.

McDonnell repeatedly raised issues related to federal legislation, specifically cap and trade and card check legislation, insisting that Deeds’ positions on these issues were bad for both business and the economy.  Deeds questioned whether McDonnell might think that the race was for a congressional office, rather than for governor of Virginia.

McDonnell also stood firmly against higher taxes.  Deeds said, “Everything needs to be on the table to solve problems.”

Both candidates indicated support for gun rights, with the difference being Deed’s support for closing the gun show loophole, which McDonnell does not support. During their match-up in 2005, the National Rifle Association endorsed Deeds over McDonnell.

Deeds supports abortion rights and McDonnell holds anti-abortion views, but both agreed that social issues would not be a centerpiece of their campaigns or a significant part of their agenda as governor.
McDonnell emphasized his experience as a businessman, attorney general and in the military as qualifications to lead.  Deeds focused on his record of bi-partisanship as a model for getting things done in Virginia.

In addition to approximately 250 attendees from the Virginia Bar Association meeting, the debate was open to the public.  Total attendance exceeded 500.

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