With five weeks to go before Virginia voters set the ballot for November’s gubernatorial race, Democrat Tom Perriello was back in Leesburg on Saturday in hopes of continuing his rise to the top of his party’s ticket.
He spoke to a group of about two dozen supporters in a small classroom at the Douglass Community Center, highlighting the progressive themes that have carried his four-month-old campaign into a neck-in-neck race with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Voters will choose between the two in the Democratic primary June 13.
Perriello, who represented the 5th Congressional District for one term and then served as a diplomat in the Obama administration, is campaigning on an economic platform that includes a call for a $15 per hour minimum wage and offers of two years of free job training through trade schools or apprenticeships. He met with the group for 90 minutes, answering a range of questions on climate change, pay equity, LBGT rights, the decriminalization of marijuana and voting reform.
“This is a good time to be thinking boldly about a new generation of ideas,” Perriello said, a summary of the campaign positions that recently landed an endorsement from former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
While the economy has largely rebounded from the recession, Perriello is stressing the need to ramp up the commonwealth’s training and education infrastructure, warning of a greater danger to Virginia jobs in the years ahead—automation. “We’re going to see a lot more people lose their jobs in the next 10 years,” he said. “Automation will make globalization look like child’s play going forward.”
Removing barriers to business competition also will be important, he said. One example he cited was the energy sector, where farmers or other landowners could sell solar- or wind-generated electricity to the power grid. Another was the beer industry, where, he said, just a few multi-billion dollar companies had controlled nearly the entire national market. Recent trends have seen their market share fall from 96 percent to 85 percent.
“That 11 percent differential has created thousands of small businesses on main streets in small towns, and rural communities like Nelson County have been able to do economic development around this and distilleries and other things,” he said. “So, when we get back to giving even a small percent of a sector back to local production it has huge job and economic implications.”
And while the economic challenges may be different around the state—the need for jobs in the south and concerns about affordability and transportation in the north, for example—the goals of residents in those areas are closely aligned, he said.
“You want to know at the end of the day, am I spending more time with my family or not? Can I actually afford the lifestyle I’m hoping to live or not? Is my debt coming down or not,” he said. “What we find is that people in Southwest Virginia and Northern Virginia don’t want things that are that different. They want to afford for their kids to have a better life.”
Polls show Perriello has closed the gap on Northam, who has been endorsed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia’s other prominent Democrats. And both Democrats are tracking ahead of leading Republican Ed Gillespie if they faced off on the November ballot. Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman, will be on the GOP’s June 13 primary ballot with Prince William County Chairman Cory A. Stewart and state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-7).
Learn more about Perriello’s campaign at tomforvirginia.com.