Virginia gubernatorial candidates tackle education, criminal justice reform during debate

Ralph Northam (left) and Ed Gillespie (right).

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates on Thursday met in Richmond at a forum sponsored by chapters of the Virginia NAACP.

The forum held, inside Virginia Union University, was packed as Virginia’s top gubernatorial candidates shared a stage just weeks before the November election.

“We have a lot of challenges that we face here in Virginia and we need the policies to get them fixed,” Republican candidate Ed Gillespie said.

Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam agreed on two of those challenges — education and criminal justice reform — the devil would be in the details.


“You have to make sure that every child has access to a good safe quality public school,” Gillespie said. “But I also think you have to shake up the system a little bit. And we have to challenge the system a little bit. And one of the things we have to do is allow for the opening of more charter public schools in Virginia.”

Northam said, “You hear people talk about vouchers sometimes. And that sounds good, but unitil we make K-5 public education stronger, we have to be careful not to take any money away from the K-12 public education system.”

The discussion on criminal justice may have been the most striking part of the conversation. Instead of harsh rhetoric about being tough on crime, both candidates reflected an evolving public opinion on drugs.

Ralph Northam (left) and Ed Gillespie (right).

“I came to conclude that we do need criminal justice reform here in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Gillespie suggested. “There’s no denying the disparate impact of marijuana possession offenses.”


“If you and I walk out front and light up a marijuana cigarette, guess who they’re going to come arrest?” Northam said to one of the moderators. “They’re gonna arrest you; three times more likely.”

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