This afternoon, the two Democrats running for the nomination to take on the abysmal Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA01) spent two hours debating, using Zoom, YouTube, etc. (given the social distancing/COVID-19 pandemic time in which we currently live). Moderators were former candidates John Suddarth and Tom Hicks, and the candidates of course were 2018 VA01 Dem nominee Vangie Williams and 2019 State Senate candidate Qasim Rashid. The debate – the first of this cycle in VA01 – was sponsored by the Hanover County Democratic Committee and had at least 200 people watching using Zoom, etc. See below for video, as well as a few highlights following the video.
- In his opening statement, Qasim Rashid emphasized his immigrant story (from Pakistan with his family 33 years ago), his goal of transforming his advocacy into policy, his belief that he has the best chance of beating Rob Wittman because his ability to get his message out is “second to none” and his fundraising ability is very strong as well. Also, Rashid referred to his run last year, which he didn’t win but believes that he overperformed compared to expectatoins, as evidence that his messaging works.
- Vangie Williams called herself a “child of this district,” “I have been here longer than most people have been in this country,” and said she is well known in the district. She also talked about her diverse work background in federal government and contracting, that her job has been “all about this country.” [NOTE: She later added that “I did not get into this just yesterday so that I could make a point” and also “”I’m a moderate, I have progressive ideas but I don’t like titles, I’m an American first and foremost.”] She said we need an economy that works for everyone in VA01, that this pandemic “has opened up the wounds and showed us truly what is going on in our community.” She emphasized the importance of investing in this community. She said in 2018, she “came within points of beating Rob Wittman,” and this year she can defeat him.
- Williams said her top three priorities in Congress would be: 1) building our economy; 2) access to quality, affordable, accessible healthcare; 3) “invest in our hometown heroes in our community.”
- Rashid said his top three priorities in Congress would be: 1) insure we have the resources we need to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, PPE supplies, effective pandemic response strategy; 2) expand healthcare access; 3) address the lack of resources in VA01 to expand broadband, healthcare facilities, etc.
- On what to do about dealing with COVID-19 in jails and prisons, Williams said “anyone who’s in jail for a non-violent crime should be tested and released,” that guards/staff should all have PPE. “We actually need to test every single person in the jail.” For those in jail for more serious crimes, Williams said they either need to be spread out or released, because “two people to a bunk is not going to slow that spread, it’s just going to perpetuate it.” Rashid emphasized his work as a human rights lawyer focused on criminal justice issues, said he believes that non-violent offenders “need to be tested and released.” He also called on Gov. Northam to release juveniles who have tested positive for COVID-19. Rashid said the criminal justice system needs to be about “reform and rehabilitation, not revenge and retribution.”
- In the first “lightning round,” the candidates were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with: 1) a federal registry for assault weapons (both Rashid and Williams said they agreed); 2) a wealth tax (Williams said no, that we should have a “fair tax”; Rashid said yes); 3) purchasing prescription drugs from outside the U.S. (Rashid and Williams both said yes); 4) putting a price on carbon emissions (both said yes); 5) allowing federal funding for abortions (both said yes); 6) instituting a universal basic income (Williams said no, because she thinks it should only be used in an economic emergency, that Americans want a “hand up, not a handout”; Rashid said yes, wealth and income inequality are at historic highs, the strongest middle class historically was when the wealth/estate tax was highest).
- In the second “lightning round,” the candidates responded to: 1) should the U.S. enact a jobs guarantee (Williams said she disagreed, Rashid said it’s worth considering); 2) should private health insurance be eliminated (Rashid said it’s not even possible in a free-market economy; Williams also disagreed); 3) should the U.S. move from the electoral college to a national popular vote system (Williams disagreed because “small communities like Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota…would not have proper representation if that was to happen”; Rashid agreed); 4) should the U.S. guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave for workers (Rashid said he agreed, at a minimum it should be 12 weeks; Williams agreed); 5) should both parties commit to stabilizing or lowering the national debt (both agreed); 6) should the U.S. expand nuclear power (both disagreed).
- More agree/disagree questions: 1) the United States should join the latest version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (both disagreed); 2) the United States should institute a multi-trillion-dollar program to put people to work on infrastructure (both agreed).
- Multiple-choice questions: 1) student loan debate should be canceled for everyone, canceled only for those with lower income, reduced but not outright canceled, or just left the way it is (Williams said either reduce or cancel, depends on income levels; Rashid said cancel for everyone, also criticized for-profit schools); 2) should recreational marijuana be legalized federally, decriminalized and left up to states to legalize, or remain illegal federally (Rashid said it should be legalized federally, that marijuana is far safer than alcohol; Williams said we need to decriminalize marijuana a the federal level and then allow the states to handle it from there, also release anyone in jail for marijuana possession); 3) should states allow all prisoners, all former prisoners, only some former prisoners be allowed to vote (Williams said all former prisoners who served their time should be able to vote; Rashid said “all prisoners”); 4) should U.S. deport anyone in the country illegally, focus on convicted criminals and threats, halt all deportations (Rashid said those are all terrible answers, that we should approach immigration with compassion and justice; Williams said we need to reform our immigration system to reflect our values as a “great melting pot, not the great exclusion”)
- On healthcare coverage, Rashid said he prefers a Medicare for All system guaranteeing healthcare as a human right; Williams said she supports a system that’s “equitable to people,” that takes the profit out of healthcare and would support Medicare for All ultimately, but for now supports a public option…
- On the constitutional gerrymandering amendment, disappointingly both candidates said they’d support it, even though almost every Democrat in the Virginia House of Delegates opposed it, with many African-American members standing up and speaking out *passionately* against this fatally flawed amendment.