BY STEPHANIE TIPPLE
The candidates for Lt. Governor, Democrat Ralph Northam and Republican E.W. Jackson, met for their first debate at George Mason University Arlington campus on Sept. 24 to present their platforms and discuss their qualifications.
With recent shootings, such as Sandy Hook and the D.C. Navy Yard, the increased media coverage made mental illness and gun violence major issues in this election.
Jackson said he believes a return to older methods of mental health care is what Virginia needs.
“I think we have got to go back to a system where people who are clearly incapable of living in our culture, safely and without harming others, have some sort of opportunity to be housed,” said Jackson.
Jackson shared a personal statement about mental illness.
“I don’t want to scare you, but I’ve got some mentally ill people in my family, and they need help,” said Jackson.
Jackson also stated his opinion on gun control and gun violence.
“The reality is, criminals are always going to get guns, they will steal them, they will find them, they will get them somehow. We’ve got to stop trying to infringe on the rights of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms according to the Second Amendment,” said Jackson.
For Northam, communication is key in handling the issue of gun violence and the mentally ill purchasing guns.
“The first step is to sit down at the table and have a discussion. Once we agree that we have a problem, then we can move forward with society, and there are certainly some areas to include opening up access to better mental health, and also making sure that we talk about background checks,” said Northam.
Northam spoke of the importance keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
“At the end of the day, we’re not going to do anything to threaten the Second Amendment, but we need to make sure that the guns are not in the hands of criminals and those that are mentally ill,” said Northam.
One issue that hits home for many students at the University of Mary Washington is the rising costs of higher education and student debt, which both Northam and Jackson addressed.
Virginia is currently ranked 40 in the country for the support it provides to full-time students in state universities, according to Northam.
Northam shared an anecdote of his own children applying for college, stating, “It is getting more and more difficult for us, as Virginians, to have our children accepted to our state colleges and universities. The reason is because in order to balance the budget, at the end of the day, colleges and universities are having to take more out of state students.”
Northam looked to states such as Georgia, explaining their program that will pay for residents to attend public universities and colleges if they maintain a B or higher average.
According to Jackson, the solution to rising higher education costs includes a two pronged approach: better support and use of community colleges and the expansion of online classes and online universities to keep costs low.
“I think of the things we should be looking at certainly is increasing the use of the community college system, to make sure that we have an alternative to our four year institutions, for those who may not want a four year degree,” said Jackson.
Both candidates offered divided opinions on women’s reproductive health, and the role Virginia plays in legislating birth control and abortion.
“I am unabashedly pro-life – I don’t make any apologies for that, and I will always do everything in my power to persuade others that it is the right thing to do, to protect the lives of unborn children,” said Jackson.
Northam felt that by limiting women’s choice, it could have not only a social, but also an economic impact on the state.
“The personhood bill would criminalize most forms of oral contraception that are used in the Commonwealth of Virginia today,” said Northam. “What woman in her right mind would want to come to the Commonwealth of Virginia when most forms of contraception have been criminalized?”
In addition to these topics, the candidates discussed the effect of government shutdown on Virginia, the importance of balancing the budget, the proposed Medicaid expansion, recent ethics conflicts with the Governor and Attorney General and the transportation bill supported by Gov. McDonnell.