Democrat Justin Fairfax and Republican Jill Vogel faced off in their first debate in the race for lieutenant governor Wednesday with less than three months until the election.
Their discussion, which was sponsored by the Senior Statesman of Virginia and held at Piedmont Virginia Community College, covered a number of topics, such as women’s health, climate change, campaign finance and Confederate monuments across Virginia.
Fairfax is a former federal prosecutor and Vogel is a state senator from Fauquier County.
On the subject of women’s health and reproductive rights, Fairfax advocated for more choice and freedom. He also referenced an ultrasound bill Vogel sponsored in 2012 that received severe backlash.
The legislation, Senate Bill 484, would have forced women to submit to an ultrasound before getting an abortion, the Richmond Times Dispatch reported.
Vogel eventually withdrew the legislation after what she said were hyper-partisan attacks.
“I can assure you that there was nothing in that bill that took any rights away from women or forced them to do anything against their will,” she said. “It was simply an informed consent bill, but all the partisan rhetoric around this issue was so offensive, and frankly so offensive to me, I withdrew the bill.
Vogel frequently reiterated afterward that she’s not running for lieutenant governor to take away anyone’s rights, “period.” She also stated she is for expanding choice and rights with respect to women’s health.
Both candidates agreed that climate change is real and would be a real threat to Virginia if not addressed. Vogel said sea level rise poses a national security threat, as well.
“It has an enormous impact on our military, and I have met with representatives from the military to try to have a discussion about what we can do in partnership,” she said. “It is critical that we make this a priority and make certain that we are directing the resources that we can to the communities that need it most, to address changes that are going to be necessary for infrastructure and support those communities now before it is too late.”
One question submitted by the audience asked if either candidate would support limits on campaign finance in Virginia. Vogel said limits should not be imposed, as campaign contributions are a matter of free speech.
Fairfax said he is in favor of limits, and that taking unlimited money out of politics would allow more people to participate in the democratic process.
“I think that actually hurts democracy rather than helps it,” he said.
The two candidates also differed on Confederate statues. Vogel said she believes history needs to be taught and not erased, and that the significance of the monuments is critical to both Virginian and American history.
She also said she does not believe taxpayer money should go toward destroying or erasing historic monuments.
Fairfax said that the statues and other monuments of the Confederacy have different meanings to different people, and that these decisions are best left to the localities.
“There are different histories and different lived experiences with these monuments, and you can't simply say because it doesn't affect you it doesn't affect everybody else,” he said. “It looks at a very divisive and divided time in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I believe the localities are doing a thoughtful job about how they are going to handle monuments in their particular jurisdictions, as it should be.”
A recent poll from Virginia Commonwealth University found Fairfax ahead of Vogel with 43 percent support among likely voters, compared to 38 percent for Vogel.
Fifteen percent of likely voters polled were undecided.
The poll was conducted by VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs from the middle to end of July.
Fairfax won the Democratic Primary against two opponents with 49 percent of the vote and 252,226 votes total.
Vogel won a close race with nearly 43 percent and 151,880 votes.
Bob Gibson of the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service said the tone of the debate was civil.
“I think they didn't really attack each other, they attacked each other's positions as appropriate,” he said. “And I think they each represent a huge part of their political party, so they are sort of running what today would be called positive campaigns.”
Another lieutenant governor candidate debate is expected in September, but no other details have been announced yet, Lauren Zehyoue, spokeswoman for Fairfax’s campaign, said.
Senior Statesmen of Virginia will hold a forum for two local House of Delegates races next month.
The group will host 25th District candidates Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, and Democrat Angela Lynn on Sept. 13 at the Senior Center starting at 1:30 p.m. That forum will be followed by another featuring 58th District candidates Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, and Democrat Kellen Squire at 2:30 p.m.
The election is Nov. 7, and the deadline to register to vote is Oct. 16. More information can be found at elections.virginia.gov.