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At Virginia Gubernatorial Debate, Gillespie Sticks With Anti-Immigrant Script

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Last night’s gubernatorial debate in Northern Virginia, moderated by NBC’s Chuck Todd, provided an opportunity to hear more about the positions on immigration from Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie. It did offer an opportunity for Ed Gillespie, the GOP nominee, to speak to the growing immigrant community in the northern part of the state and to offer policies that would assuage any concerns perpetuated by his extremist turn on issues like immigration.

Gillespie, unfortunately failed to reach out to these voters last night. Continuing a manufactured line of attack against Democrat Ralph Northam on sanctuary cities, something that is not allowed in Virginia, Gillespie doubled down on the claim. Northam, responded by accurately stating that there were no such cities in the commonwealth, and that the attack was a “political ploy” manufactured by the Virginia Senate to help Gillespie use it as a line of attack against him.

From the Washington Post:

[Virginia] Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) initially voted against the [sanctuary cities] ban. It was an odd move for the GOP leader to break from his party, but it set up a tie forcing Northam to go on record on a contentious issue. Northam voted against the bill, and Gillespie’s campaign promptly put out a statement condemning him for it. The bill came for another vote, and passed with Norment’s support. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed the legislation. Asked if he deliberately voted against the bill to force a vote from Northam, Norment walked away from reporters.

Election year hijinks by the state GOP notwithstanding, sanctuary cities is not a major issue for Virginia voters. What it does show, however, is the continued disconnect between the Republican Party from the federal level, down to the state, and local representatives in Virginia. Using a contentious issue in other states — sanctuary cities — as a wedge issue in Virginia shows the doubling down by the Virginia GOP on Trump-Corey Stewart anti-immigrant, divisive, and racist policies that have ended DACA, put TPS in peril, and have tried time and time again to institute a racist Muslim travel ban.

One side note: When Northam was asked about his position on “Sanctuary Cities,” it was in the context of how the Trump administration defines it. That policy, heavily promoted by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was blocked by a federal judge last week.

In the first gubernatorial debate in July, we covered Gillespie’s heartless statement to Virginia Dreamers:

I know that people, young people who are here by virtue of a decision their parents made — they’re here for no fault of their own. But we have scarce tax dollars, and we have a hard enough time getting people who are here legally and are citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia access to affordable college education.

Virginia Dreamers have had in-state tuition access since 2014, allowing 8 thousand students to continue achieving their dreams and add to our society. Sadly, not much has changed since the first debate, as Gillespie has continued to try and solidify his support among the most extreme elements of his base instead of reaching out to appeal to voters sympathetic to the plight of DACA recipients.

Most of the debate, however, dealt with jobs, the economy, and taxes. No doubt important issues for residents of the commonwealth, but issues that offered little surprise, as the candidates both embraced their party’s messages. One exchange that proved the difficult balancing act Gillespie is facing with Trump involved campaigning in Virginia.

From Politico:

“I’ll take help from anybody anywhere,” he said. Pressed after the debate on whether he would invite Trump to the state, he sidestepped: “I’m comfortable with the answer I gave.”

When asked about his disagreements with Trump, Northam led with the Muslim Ban and DACA:

There are some things, Chuck, that bother me that are very detrimental to the Commonwealth of Virginia. First was the travel ban that did nothing more than promote fear-mongering. My opponent supported the travel ban… And now we have DACA where he is talking about sending back children that are here in this country at no fault of their own. Sending them out of the country and I am sure Ed would follow right in line with that as well.

As with other elections, turnout and voter enthusiasm will be key for the governor’s race, as well as races down the ballot. Voters will also be electing a new Lieutenant Governor in a campaign between Democrat Justin Fairfax and Republican Jill Vogel.  Mark Herring, who has been a champion for civil rights including joining lawsuits on behalf of DAPA, against the Muslim Ban and to defend DACA, is running for reelection as Attorney General against John Adams.  

In addition, all 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates are also on the ballot. Currently, Republicans control that body by a margin of 66 to 34. With a slate of very competitive Democratic candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates — including many who are immigrants and refugees themselves like Elizabeth Guzman in District 31 and Kathy Tran in District 42– this year’s elections will be pivotal for immigrant and refugee communities across the commonwealth.

To that point, Casa In Action is on the ground and working the doors to increase turnout of voters who care about immigration issues. Last night, Telemundo’s DC affiliate followed some of Casa’s volunteers as they canvassed in Virginia.

As Frank Sharry said yesterday, “Virginians, like me, are ready and willing to support candidates who lead who offer concrete and constructive reforms on the toughest issues facing our state and our nation. But we are not interested in politicians who put their finger to the wind and make vague statements that end up putting at risk tens of thousands of Virginian families.”

And, that was on full display last night.

Follow Julio Lainez (@JulioCLainez), America’s Voice Virginia State Director, and America’s Voice (@AmericasVoice) on Twitter as we cover the Virginia elections of 2017.