I’m a progressive Virginian who has voted for Democrats for over two decades. Like many who’ve also voted for Democrats all those years, I was brutally awakened by Trump’s election and have spent a good amount of my time since participating in the various resistance movements (e.g. Women’s March, Dulles airport protests, Muslim ban protests, ACA repeal opposition efforts, etc.). Uncharacteristically for me, I’ve also been highly engaged in the VA Democratic gubernatorial primary process (e.g. attending town halls and candidate debate forums online and in-person, contributing to social media dialogue, etc.) and have been further awakened by what I’ve observed as well as the sheer magnitude of the stakes.
These days, you can frequently find me at any number of the seemingly endless schedule of Tom Perriello town halls where you can count me among the many “new people I’ve never seen before” popping up at Perriello events, noted by statewide political blogger, Ben Tribbett (@notlarrysabato) during his recent interview on the John Fredericks show. From Day 1, I was impressed not only with Tom Perriello’s vision of Virginia as a “firewall against Trump”, but also his acknowledgement that though resistance to the Trump agenda is imperative, “it is not enough to assume people will simply vote for a ‘D’ after our names. We have to go out there and offer a positive vision to earn their votes.” He’s earned mine with just that.
At the same time, I entered this primary process with a generally positive impression of Ralph Northam and was content to vote for him versus Ed Gillespie (assuming he’s the Republican nominee), despite my strong disagreement with Northam on the pipelines and his personal investment in/campaign contributions from Dominion.
That said, I’ve since become deeply troubled by seemingly obsessive efforts by the Northam campaign and its supporters to define Tom Perriello in present form by the few and openly acknowledged mistakes from his past, while whitewashing Northam’s own mistakes and evolution on issues and prior votes. It’s becoming a consistent pattern that, in my opinion, ultimately devolves to the fact that they both have evolved to get where they are today and the few real, current differences between them do not favor Northam (e.g. refuses to oppose the proposed fracked gas pipelines, only Democratic candidate for governor or lieutenant governor who has accepted Dominion contributions to his/her current campaign, voted twice for the George W. Bush administration in which the likely Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, served).
At the two debates/candidate forums I’ve attended in person, I have now seen Ralph Northam respond that he couldn’t remember his post-Virginia Tech, NRA-supported vote in the Virginia Senate to bar VA municipalities from fingerprinting concealed carry handgun applicants when asked to explain it by the Executive Director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation. On a recent Kojo Nmamdi show broadcast, Northam falsely claimed, “I’m the only one who does not have an A rating from the NRA” in reference to all other gubernatorial candidates in the race. Northam made that claim despite knowing full well that Perriello is graded “F” by the NRA, as evidenced by his revised talking points before the Kojo interview that reflected that fact. At their first debate on April 29th, Ralph Northam accused Perriello’s campaign of being funded by the NRA. Also false.
On Dominion’s proposed fracked gas pipelines, Northam has repeatedly dodged direct questions on his position (despite Governor McAuliffe’s radio interview response that Northam told him he supports them), and he’s given unconvincing justification for his personal investments in and campaign contributions from Dominion. More importantly, Perriello’s opposition to the pipelines and refusal to accept campaign contributions from Dominion offers greater appeal to the 66% of Virginians who now believe it is inappropriate for candidates for governor to accept campaign contributions from Dominion as well as broad, counterintuitive coalitions of Democrats, independents and conservatives who will be critical to ensuring a general election victory.
The appeal is not just environmental. Perriello’s position better serves the economic (far less expensive investment required to expand and accelerate job/small business growth in the booming clean/renewable energy, weatherization and energy efficiency sectors than investing billions in new fossil fuel infrastructure), private land, campaign finance reform and moral interests of Virginians. Anyone who thinks free-market conservatives are incapable of grasping the positive implications of Perriello’s distributed energy sourcing vision is kidding themselves. As Perriello wisely notes, “Virginia voters care less about whether or not you’re left or right. They care more about whether or not you’re helping them move up or down.” And despite claims to the contrary, Perriello regularly commends Dominion’s good acts on the campaign trail. I’ve heard him cite Dominion’s excellent veteran job placement performance specifically, and I join him in commending them for it.
I don’t fault either candidate in perpetuity for their mistakes of the past, not even Northam’s two votes for George W. Bush (albeit an inescapable, if unfortunate, current handicap if he were to face Gillespie). Nor do I fault Northam’s previous, politically expedient claim that health care should be a privilege, not a right after Tom Perriello sacrificed his seat in Congress to defend the opposite perspective. They’re both human. But, I do fault Northam for his mistakes of the present, his tendency to avoid honoring uncomfortable questions with straightforward answers, and both the Northam campaign’s and its surrogates’ tactics to portray Perriello as anti-women and less committed to common sense gun safety measures when he is and stands strongly for the exact opposite of both characterizations.
I still believe Ralph Northam and the many good people who support him stand for so much better than this troublesome trend suggests. I’m still inclined to vote for Northam in the general if he wins the nomination, though I could not be more convinced that Perriello is the stronger general election candidate who’s done far more to earn the privilege of representing the Democratic Party as their nominee. At the same time, I commend other contributors to Blue Virginia who’ve preceded me in the unenviable task of calling out both the Northam campaign and its surrogates (including the disappointing complicity of some NARAL representatives) for contributing to the Perriello disinformation campaign. To this voter, it’s done more harm than good.
While neither Tom Perriello nor Ralph Northam boast perfect records (they’re both human), both offer Virginians rock solid platforms on women’s issues and gun safety (with evidence to support), despite any attempts by the Northam camp to suggest otherwise. At the end of the day, one of the most striking differences I’ve observed between the two candidates is that Perriello openly owns and discusses his few regrets and mistakes, while Northam either can’t remember his or suggests they don’t exist with “never wavered” language that his record simply does not reflect. Northam would be wise to address challenges to his own record with Perriello’s openness and authenticity. Likewise, he and his supporters would do well to focus less of their energy on discrediting Perriello’s broadly appealing forward vision and platform through disinformation, and more of their efforts on proffering their own.