Virginia gubernatorial candidate speaks at AU
Tom Perriello spoke to students about strengthening the Democratic Party on April 19
Tom Perriello, a Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, spoke on Wednesday, April 19 to a group of about 30 students. He spoke about his platform and how this election is a significant time for the Democratic Party in Virginia, which has historically been a swing state.
The event was sponsored by AU College Democrats and the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies (CCPS) at the School of Public Affairs. The discussion was moderated by professor Candy Nelson, director of CCPS.
Perriello opened the discussion by explaining that the governor’s race is a chance for Virginia to take a stand against the Trump administration, while simultaneously helping to shape the future of the Democratic Party.
“What I think would be the mistake of this opportunity, and I believe this is a lot of what we’re trying to make this campaign about, is if we define ourselves entirely by resistance,” Perriello said. “We should be the party that defines what the positive vision is, of what a new social contract looks like for the working middle class and this new era of globalization, consolidation and automation.”
Perriello began his career working on environmental issues, and has since worked as a teacher, a non-profit executive and diplomat in the Obama administration. He won a congressional race in 2008 and served one term representing Virginia’s 5th District, according to his website. This is his first time running for governor and he is currently in a tight Democratic primary race against Virginia lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, who is supported by Virginia’s current governor, Terry McAuliffe.
Perriello said he is the first candidate in Virginia Democratic history to stand for a living wage of $15 per hour in the state and for two years of debt-free community college, trade school or apprenticeship programs. His liberal platform has earned him endorsements from Bernie Sanders, top officials in the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chair John Podesta.
Despite the national attention and support from prominent Democrats, Perriello said he wants to keep his campaign as grassroots-driven as possible.
“Now it’s flattering and really nice that there’s also been that top cover from the chair of Hillary’s campaign and Bernie and a bunch of Obama senior advisors,” Perriello said. “But what we’re really trying to show is that this is about uniting the next generation of the party.”
Later in the event, Perriello answered questions about his platform and what actions he would take if elected governor. He made a point of noting that the top Republican candidate in the governor’s race, Ed Gillespie, has failed to stand up to the Trump administration, even though some of Trump’s proposed policies could cost Virginia 35 to 50 percent of its jobs, Perriello said.
“When the fight comes on issues, the big fights, whether it’s health care reform or gun control or climate reform, I am fearless about throwing myself into those efforts. I’ve done so now for several years and I think it is important,” Perriello said. “I actually think, ultimately, movements matter more than politicians do. I think movements can change the world and politicians show up and cut the ribbon.”
Following his remarks, Perriello responded to student questions regarding subjects such as criminal justice reform, health care, supporting other Democrats up and down the ballot and trying to find unity in Virginia, which he said is strongly divided between blue and red.
Owen Urech, a junior studying political science and the president of the Roosevelt Institute’s AU chapter, attended the event to learn more about Perriello.
“I thought he was great, very well-informed, kind of wonky,” Urech said. “He represents a great candidate for Virginia. He’s also a great candidate for AU students to be interested in because he’s relatively new and progressive.”