Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Debate Abortion, Clean Energy, and Vaccine Mandates

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This September there were two debates between Terry McAuliffe (D) and Glenn Youngkin (R), the viable candidates to be the 74th Governor of Virginia. This article will serve to summarise their positions on key topics and provide resources to look into the issues further. Some topics have been omitted for brevity. To see the first and second debates in their entirety, you can watch the live streams on YouTube.

Covid

Within the two debates, both candidates attempted to make it clear they were pro-vaccination, Youngkin saying, “Getting the vaccine is the most important thing we can do [to stop the spread of covid-19]”. Where the two differ is their takes on vaccine mandates; McAuliffe being pro-mandate, especially for those that work in hospitals and in K-12 education, as well as for those aged 12+ in the Virginia school system. Whereas Youngkin is anti-mandate, saying everyone should have the right to choose if they get the vaccine or not. The conversation came to its climax when McAuliffe asked his opponent if the medical staff that works around immunocompromised cancer patients, who would be at a much larger risk of having severe cases, should be required to get vaccinated. Youngkin doubled down on his position, saying that it would still be up to the individual.

Climate

The portion of the debate centered on climate change was focused mainly on energy production and how it would affect industry within the state. McAuliffe made a strong stance early on, stating that he wanted to get Virginia on track to reach net-zero emissions from energy production by 2035, a bold plan among democrats, and unthinkable in the republican policy. Youngkin made this clear, saying that renewable sources are unreliable and that they would cause outages such as those seen in California. The idea that renewables are the primary cause of California’s energy issues is generally considered a misconception, you can find a more in-depth look into the topic here. McAuliffe responded with a promise to make Virginia a hub for green energy technology production, which he said would bring many new jobs to cities around the state.

Social Justice

The main issue brought up on the topic of police reform was ending qualified immunity, which has been a major goal for racial justice activists. Qualified immunity is defined by the Cornell Law School as,

“A type of legal immunity… [that] protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a ‘clearly established’ statutory or constitutional right.”

Both candidates defended qualified immunity and said it should be upheld. In response to a question about their opinions on the recent removal of Richmond’s infamous Robert E. Lee statue, McAuliffe celebrated the win for activists; calling the statue a symbol of hate and division. Youngkin was less enthusiastic but ultimately agreed that local governments have every right to make those decisions. Similarly, when the topic of trans rights within Virginia public schools was brought up, McAuliffe said that policy should be left up to individual school districts. This is after much controversy surrounding the Loudoun County School Board’s new amendment that aims to make schools more accepting of trans and nonbinary students. He then used this question to promote his plan that would raise teachers’ wages in the state above national averages.

On the topic of abortion, the two stuck within typical party lines. McAuliffe assured that he’d protect women’s right to choose, most prominently stating that he’d fight to have Roe v. Wade enshrined in the Virginia constitution. Adding that this was out of concern that the current conservative-majority supreme court would overturn the landmark ruling. Youngkin confirmed that he was anti-abortion, but that he would veto a “Texas bill“, calling the legislation “unworkable and confusing”. When pushed to specify by the debate moderator, Youngkin declined to say if he’d support a ban on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, though he wasn’t so vague in a previous conversation on the matter.

If you wish to do additional research on the candidates’ policies you can find McAuliffe’s proposals here and Youngkin’s here.