With time winding down before the Democratic statewide primary on June 13, the three candidates seeking the Democratic party’s nomination to run for
lieutenant governor participated locally in one of the last debates.
Justin Fairfax, Susan Platt and Gene Rossi, all hailing from Northern Virginia, were on stage touting their credentials and their stands on the issues on May 25 at the Murray Banquet Center Hall in Downtown Norfolk
The hall was filled with campaign ground staff, and 300 plus Hampton Roads residents who came from all over the region. It was hosted by the Political Action Ministry of Norfolk Historic First Baptist Church Bute Street in conjunction with other groups.
The trio fielded questions from the debate moderator Dr. Quentin Kidd, Political Analyst and Vice Provost and Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy Christopher Newport University in Newport News.
They also answered a few questions gathered from the audience. The topics raged from education, voting rights and what they would do if they did not win the hotly contested race.
During their opening statements, the candidates sought to endear themselves to the audience by talking about issues in their lives which may have prompted their interest in public service.
Fairfax ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General four years ago, but secured the support of nearly 50 percent of the voters. He said he never left the field of political battle after that contest, supporting on his own, the winner, Mark Herring, and the candidates for Lt. Governor and Governor.
During his opening remarks, Fairfax said he owes his success to the “Spiritual Capital” he accrued during the time his father left his mother with four children to raise. The family moved in with his grandparents who were relatively middle class in Washington, D.C. at the time in the 1980s.
That stability helped his mother to buy a home and send her four offspring to college, two to law school, including him.
He was a Northern Virginia federal prosecutor until he got an itch for politics.
As for Susan Platt, she mentioned the death of her stepdaughter to addiction and having to take care of her grandchildren and their emotional and material needs.
On the day of the debate, Platt‘s campaign sent out a press release, supporting the removal of all of the Confederate monuments and any references via name from public buildings.
Platt is a longtime political hand, having helped former Virginia Senator Charles Robb win his last Senatorial campaign against Oliver North in 1996, and she worked on the staff of former Vice President Joe Biden.
She mentioned that there would be history made again if she won, for there has never been a female Lt. Governor in Virginia.
Gene Rossi said he has spent 30 years as a lawyer, training U.S. Attorneys in Virginia, including Fairfax.
He talked about his daughter’s overcoming a serious cardiovascular disease, and he labels her the ‘inspirational” comeback kid.
He noted that he had a rare blood disease in 2013 which required replacement of his blood stream. He said the Democrats are always looking for “New Blood” and he said his life story was inspiring enough to be elected Lt. Governor.
When asked by Kidd why each should be Virginia’s Lt. Governor, all three cited their experiences growing up which led them to where they are now.
Platt said after her mother died, leaving her father to raise 12 children, she learned from him that her gender should not deter her from pursuing her goals in business or in politics.
Rossi, too, had to overcome the loss of a parent which took a toll on him, for he almost dropped out of high school. He was one of four sons raised by their mother. It was the encouragement of a Jesuit priest that helped him become a lawyer. Over the years, he has worked with four governors.
Fairfax said it was the support of his grandparents that helped him overcome the dangers of the crime-infested streets of Southeast Washington and eventually become a prosecutor of criminal offenders.
He said the nation’s school to prison pipeline must be dismantled because of the racial and economic biases. He said he has worked in all three branches of the government and his wife owns a dental business in Northern Virginia which gives him insight to the plight of business people.
There has been a call to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. While there is support from workers and liberal politicians and economics, the GOP is standing against it.
Rossi said he would support a minimum wage, but would give an exemption to small businesses hard-pressed to do so. He said he ran his father’s lumber company and had to make weekly payroll, giving him insight that paying workers decent wages shows that their employers respect them as workers and people.
Fairfax noted while Virginia pays only $7.25 minimum wage, West Virginia, which does not have as strong an economy as Virginia pays over $8. He said in Virginia a family making minimum wage earns about $14,000 a year which is not enough to raise a family.
The result, he said, is that people are forced to work two or more jobs and that impacts on the workers and their family’s lives.
Platt said when she traveled around the state as a member the state’s tourism board, she saw the disparity in earning power among Virginians. Like her opponents, she said raising the minimum wage and improving the educational opportunities for people would help better their quality of life economically.
All three candidates said they would work to improve healthcare services in the state and each supported Medicaid expansion.
On education and the high cost of attending college, Fairfax said student loan debt was “crushing” students and he also supported a new state supported tuition loan refinancing plan.
Platt suggested that college graduates could pay off a portion of their loans by working for several years in underserved communities, benefitting themselves and the local communities.
Rossi said the state could reallocate funds to pay for free tuition for college students. He said instead of many students entering colleges, the state needs to “think outside the box” and steer some high schoolers toward trade schools to learn HVAC and other high paying skills not requiring a college degree.
By Leonard E. Colvin