In the final gubernatorial debate, when Democrat Ralph Northam talked about his military service, Republican Ed Gillespie proudly boasted about his work as a corporate lobbyist.
As the increasingly tense and racially charged Virginia gubernatorial election draws to a close, Democratic candidate Ralph Northam and Republican candidate Ed Gillespie strike a clear contrast.
Gillespie, a former party chair and adviser to George W. Bush, is a worst-of-both-worlds politician. On one hand, he is quick to court white supremacists by stoking Trumpian grievances about immigrants and pandering to Confederate sympathizers. On the other hand, he tries to create daylight between himself and Donald Trump by playing up his ties to the old guard of elite, corporate-backed establishment Republicans, who are essentially everything people hate about politics.
Gillespie’s loyalty to big business over people became vividly clear when the candidates met at the University of Virginia-Wise for the final debate.
In the most memorable segment of the debate, Gillespie accused Northam — the current lieutenant governor — of blowing off meetings of the rural economic development commission.
Northam replied by discussing his service to the country as a doctor in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and to the commonwealth of Virginia, while Gillespie was a K Street lobbyist:
NORTHAM: I would like to remind you, Mr. Gillespie, that I served for eight years in the United States Army, I treated wounded soldiers during Desert Storm, I showed up for this country. I showed up when I served in the Virginia Senate for six years. As your lieutenant governor, I did not miss one second of being on the podium during that four years. So I have showed up for Virginia, and I've been proud to do so, and I guess while I've been showing up and serving the commonwealth of Virginia, you've been a K Street lobbyist in Washington. So the only time you have showed up is when you get paid. So there's a difference between the two.
When Gillespie attempted to respond, he made a huge blunder. "I did show up for my clients and the firm I left more than a decade ago," he said, "and was effective on their behalf."
Gillespie worked as a corporate lobbyist for Quinn Gillespie & Associates, a firm that has represented banks and predatory student lenders. Neither of which have interests aligned with rural Virginia or, for that matter, the middle class. In essence, Gillespie is admitting his instinct is to fight for big business over the very people he is running to serve.
Gillespie’s idea for reviving rural communities, for instance, is to bring back the coal tax credit, which — in addition to being horrible for the environment — would be unlikely to create jobs for struggling rural families, since coal mining is increasingly automated. All it would do is increase profits for coal executives.
Northam, on the other hand, discussed real ideas for helping low-income families in rural areas and across the state, such as expanding Medicaid.
Gillespie’s words in the final debate ended up proving Northam’s point. He does only show up when he is getting paid. He thinks, first and foremost, like a lobbyist — and therefore, he will never be able to properly serve the people of Virginia.