News and Commentary

EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Virginia Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Ed Gillespie

As a Virginia resident, the upcoming gubernatorial election has been on my radar since long before heavy-hitting Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, started fundraising and campaigning for Democrat Ralph Northam. I watched as his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, closed the polling gap just last week, and recently I’ve grown confident that the former RNC Chairman and advisor to President George W. Bush has a real shot at victory in November.

While the contest has been referred to as “the race of moderates” by some, there is a clear distinction between the policies of the two men fighting for the Governor’s mansion. On Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Gillespie about the campaign, his policies, and his opponents. During the discussion, Gillespie noted that some of his stances, such as lowering taxes and his opposition to sanctuary cities, fall in line with the “traditional Republican approach,” while others, like his proposal for criminal justice reform, are “not consistent” with that approach. What is consistent, said the gubernatorial candidate, is his “North Star,” that all of his policies are “good for Virginia.” Below is the transcript of my conversation with Mr. Gillespie:

The Republican Party is fractious at the moment. We have those who support traditional establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, others who are calling for a return to more conservative policies, like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and the dedicated “Make America Great Again” crowd. Which of these factions, if any, hold the keys to future success for Republicans?

Well, I think it’s key to unify the party, and to make sure that you’ve got a message that resonates, not just with core Republicans, but Independents and open-minded voters as well. That’s what I try to do. I’ve put forward a number of policies — 20 specific detailed policy proposals — and not all of them fit neatly into any one category. I’m running on ideas that I know are good for Virginia, that’s my North Star. Is this policy going to be good for Virginia, or not good for Virginia? And so, if you look at my proposal to cut our individual income tax rates by 10% across the board to foster more natural organic growth here in the Commonwealth, that would be more along the lines of the traditional Republican approach. But I’ve also put forth criminal justice reforms that are not consistent with the traditional Republican approach. My view is I just need to put forward what I think are the best policies for Virginia and people can fit them into whatever category they want. From my perspective all that matters is, is it good for Virginia or bad for Virginia? And that’s what will be my determination when it comes to the right policies.

I want to ask you about your Libertarian opponent, Cliff Hyra. In 2013, Terry McAuliffe defeated his Republican opponent, Ken Cuccinelli, by a slim margin. Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate that year, split 6.5% of the vote in that contest. Why should conservatives who lean Libertarian in some issues vote for you and not for Hyra?

I think if they look at my policies on taxes, and regulatory relief, and changing occupational licensing requirements, and things like that as well as, I’ve come to conclude that medical marijuana is the right policy for us here in the Commonwealth. Actually in my criminal justice reform plan, while I don’t support legalizing marijuana, I do think we need to have the penalty fit the offense more, so I support a policy I call three strikes you’re in. And that’s where the first two possession offenses are not a criminal charge, because having a criminal conviction for a simple marijuana possession can dog you for the rest of your life. To me that seems too harsh. But at the same time I don’t support legalizing it, so I think this is a common sense approach. I also think if you want to see lower taxes, fewer regulations, and respect for personal liberty, my policies are consistent with that, and Ralph Northam’s are not. Either Ralph Northam or I will be the next governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and if you care about freedom and personal liberty, voting for me is the way you’ll end up getting more of that.

You mentioned occupational licensing, let’s stay with that for a moment. I know you’ve said you want to reform occupational licensing to “ease excessive burdens on entrepreneurs.” What constitutes “excessive burden”? How do you make that distinction, and how will you involve Virginia businesses in determining which licensing standards should be kept in place, and which are unnecessary or harmful?

I think it’s something you have to evaluate. To be a barber in Virginia, you need to complete three months worth of required training by the state, and then pay a state licensing fee. That’s an unnecessarily burdensome barrier to entry. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never gotten a second bad haircut from the same barber. I want my dentist to have an occupational license, but I don’t know that my barber needs one from the state. Some I think we don’t need, and for some I think the barriers are too high and can be lowered. There are barriers to entry, and they tend to protect existing and often large businesses, at the expense of new and small businesses, and I think that reform is warranted. According to the Mercatus Center at George Mason, Virginia is the 9th most stringently licensed for occupational licenses in the country. I think we can make that easier. In terms of the regulated population, one of the things that I put forward is what I call the regulatory red flag, which says that if ten percent of a regulated population raises a red flag about a regulation and says this is outdated, or antiquated, or no longer necessary, or excessively burdensome, my administration would give it an expedited review within 90 days. So, let’s say there are 5,000 barbers that are a licensed and regulated population. If there are 5,000 of them, and 500 come forward and say this regulation is unnecessary, or doesn’t protect consumers, or is excessively burdensome, we’d have an expedited review over a 90 day period, and we might conclude that you’re right, it is outdated. It was put in place in 1963 and it’s not warranted any longer so we’re going to repeal it. Or we might say, well it’s outdated, but we still need to meet the concern here, so we’ll modernize it. Or, we’ve looked at it and appreciate your concern, but the needs of the consumer or the worker are such that it doesn’t warrant repealing. And that would give people a recourse that they don’t have right now.

Tell me about your proposed tax plan. My understanding is that it will cut individual income tax rates by 10% across the board for Virginians. What does implementation of that plan look like? And what benefits do you expect from the implementation of your plan?

Well it’s phased in over three years, that’s the responsible way to do it. I think the fiscally responsible way to do it. It’s based on future revenue growth projections of $3.4 billion dollars which we anticipate over the next five years, and what I’m saying is, let’s not collect $1.4 billion dollars of that and allow hardworking Virginians to keep that to spend as we see fit. The net impact of that would be to result in the creation of more than 53,000 new, additional, full-time, private sector jobs across the Commonwealth. That’s a 25% increase over current projections. And we need those jobs and we need that opportunity. Our economic growth rate last year was 0.6%, and we were 39th out of 50 states. Our wage growth was 1.7%, which is wage stagnation, and we were 44th out of 50 states. And I truly believe that objectively speaking, not just from my heart but my head, when you look at Virginia’s assets, you look at our vast natural resources, our fertile lands, our ports, our people, our great colleges and universities, our natural beauty, our location, when it comes to economic growth and job creation, Virginia should be first in the country. We can be with the right policies, but we don’t have those policies right now, and if we don’t change the policies, nothing is going to change, and so I think this is a critically important election for us.

Public safety has been a main focus of your campaign. You’ve criticized Ralph Northam for casting the tie-breaking vote against a bill that sought to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia. Currently, no such cities exist in the Commonwealth, and Dr. Northam has cited that as his reason voting against the ban. Why is it so important to you to pass this proactive measure?

A couple things, number one, leadership is not just reacting to problems. Leadership is also preventing problems, and for a city or county to declare itself as a sanctuary city — meaning they would not comply and cooperate with federal authorities in compliance with immigration laws — I don’t believe that would make us safer. Secondly, when I asked the Lieutenant Governor in the last debate, “what if a sanctuary city came forward? What if a city or county declared themselves a sanctuary city? Would you then sign a bill banning them, after the fact?” And he refused to say that he would in that instance either, so just to be clear, it’s not just in preventive posture, but also in a reactive posture, that he would not sign a bill to ban them. I think that we should not allow for them and make it clear that they’re not allowed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, because when someone is here illegally and they commit a crime, and many of the members of MS-13, which is a surging and violent and threatening gang in Northern Virginia and other parts of the Commonwealth — as well increasing in the Shenandoah Valley and other areas — if they commit a crime, we need to cooperate with federal law authorities, and they need to be deported. I think that it will help make us safer and help us eradicate MS-13.

The police response during August’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was viewed by many as chaotic and ineffective. There was open fighting in the streets and three people lost their lives. If a group with radical views, on the right or the left, secured permits to protest in a Virginia city again, what steps would you take to make sure that localities are more prepared to protect the citizenry, without impeding on the 1st Amendment free speech rights of both protestors and counter-protestors?

Well, as you know, there’s an after-action review being conducted right now about the steps that were taken in Charlottesville and the lessons to be learned, and I am eager to see the conclusions of that analysis. I think we do need to learn lessons. I would obviously listen to my cabinet secretaries who have responsibilities for public safety and work closely with the state police and with the localities to ensure — and we can do both — to ensure the people have their freedom of speech protected, but also that the people of Virginia are kept safe. That’s always a balance you have to get right, and I would get it right as our next governor.

As I told you, I live in Northern Virginia and have first hand experience with the abysmal traffic here. The solution for many Virginians is the DC Area Metro system. You’ve criticized the way we utilize funding for Metro and during the debates with Lt. Governor Northam, you insisted that we initiate reforms before spending more on new lines and services. What specific reforms would have to take place before you’d be willing to increase Virginia’s tax dollar contributions to Metro?

We provide hundreds of millions of dollars every year for the Metro system from Virginia, but I do believe that too much of it is wasted on bureaucracy and its capital that’s not resulting in improving safety or the rider experience. We’ve got to do better in that regard, and I think before we consider putting good money after bad, we have to reform Metro. And I think Virginia should have a larger role at the table when it comes to key decisions in that regard. A number of things we need to do, we’ve got outdated work rules and we’re rewarding inefficiency, we need to reform that. I do think that we need to make recommendations; a new Metro safety commission, and the restructuring of the board. I think it shouldn’t just be a temporary restructuring but a permanent change. And one of the things I want to do is make sure the people who we appoint to the board are experts in innovation and have experience in the private sector that they could bring to help make structural changes that we need to be more innovative. But it’s a priority for me, Metro is a huge asset in Virginia. About 300,000 riders, on average every day, ride metro, and one of the first things I would do would be to seek a meeting with Governor Hogan of Maryland and Mayor Bowser of Washington and Secretary Chao, and convene that meeting to talk about what we’re going to do to start to develop a transformation plan for metro, to save it, and we do need to save it.

Ralph Northam is currently the lieutenant governor of Virginia. Despite being actively engaged in the political realm for decades, you’ve never held elected public office. Why are you more qualified for the governorship than Northam, and what have you seen from his performance as lieutenant governor that makes you believe he wouldn’t be an effective governor?

A number of things. The policy choices are clear in this election. Are we going to have higher taxes, or lower taxes? Are we going to have more regulations, or fewer regulations? Are we going to protect our right to work law, or are we going to allow for it to be overturned? These choices are very, very clear, and so his policies are wrong for Virginia. I think my experience in the private sector, and in government at the highest levels — at Capitol Hill and in the White House — inform me, and would make me an effective leader. I’ve led big organizations, and my experience working at the side of a president of the United States, at a very difficult time in our nation’s history, and watching the decision process, would be a value to the people of Virginia. And I’ll get the job done, and I’ll be hard working. The fact is, during his four years in the lieutenant governorship, Ralph Northam served on a number of panels as part of that responsibility and duty. He serves on the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, which is the organization that’s responsible for identifying how we’re going to get our economy growing and create opportunity and jobs. He missed 60% of those meetings. He serves on the Homeland Security panel for us, the Secure Commonwealth Panel, he missed all of those meetings. He didn’t make a single one. And that’s a critically important priority for the people of Virginia. The Center for Rural Virginia is the government commission that identifies ways that we can expand opportunity, and meet the needs of people in rural Virginia and he didn’t attend a single one of those meetings as lieutenant governor. You know, in the private sector, when you don’t show up for the job you get, you tend not to get a promotion, but he’s seeking one now and I think my policies will be better for us. I’ll be a hard working governor for us, and my experience will make me an effective governor for us.

The Virginia gubernatorial election will be held on November, 7th. If you’re a Virginia resident, please vote.