Lt. Governor Candidates Debate Climate, Housing, and Education

By Megan Schiffres

April 15, 2021

RICHMOND – Five Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor fought to distinguish themselves from the pack during their latest virtual debate.

Former NAACP President Sean Perryman positioned himself as the most progressive candidate on the ballot. Delegates Sam Rasoul (D – Roanoke) and Mark Levine (D- Alexandria) offered a more moderately progressive agenda. Norfolk City Council member Andria McClellan and Xavier Warren, an NFL agent and lobbyist, meanwhile demonstrated their more conservative agendas.

Delegates Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, who are also running for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, did not attend the debate. 

Different Approaches to the Climate Crisis 

The College Democrats of America played host to the debate. Therefore, questions focused on issues important to youth voters. That’s probably why climate change was first on the agenda, as candidates all said to varying degrees that they support transitioning the Commonwealth to renewable energy.

Perryman took the strongest stance on the climate crisis, saying he’s prepared to halt the fossil fuel industry in Virginia entirely. 

“I support a moratorium on fossil fuels, I support a renewable electric grid by 2035,” Perryman said. 

Levine didn’t go as far as Perryman. However, he said during the debate he’d support halting any future fossil fuel projects in the Commonwealth. That, he says, would be the start of a state-wide transition away from fossil fuels. 

“You’ve got to get rid of new fossil fuel plants online. You’ve got to transition away from the ones that we have. And that requires things like cap and trade to keep down on carbon,” Levine said. 

McClellan, a representative of a coastal region in Virginia, proposed a Commonwealth Flood Board during the debate. This board would be dedicated to addressing the climate crisis on not only the coast, but throughout Virginia’s high flood risk areas. 

“We need to focus on energy efficiency and reducing our energy burden,” said McClellan. 

Rasoul also supports transitioning away from fossil fuels. His strategy is to offer businesses tax credits for developing renewable and clean energy projects. 

Addressing the Housing Crisis in Virginia 

To address the housing crisis in Virginia, Perryman and Levine agreed that a living wage is the first step towards making housing affordable. 

“At the end of the day it is all about wages,” said Levine. “It’s about people earning enough money to make a living. It’s about folks with disabilities earning the same minimum wage as everyone else.”

Like Levine, the other four candidates said they support reforming the Commonwealth’s assistance programs for people with disabilities. They all said that these reforms are an important aspect in preventing and addressing houselessness in Virginia. However, their opinions differ on what changes they want to see to achieve this goal.

Both Perryman and Rasoul pointed to the Commonwealth’s Disability Waivers, which provide people with long-term disabilities with medical, behavioral, and financial support, as an area in need of reform.

Virginia’s Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which provides cash benefits to people with disabilities who qualify for the waiver, only pays a maximum of $783 a month. That’s according to The Arc Virginia, a statewide advocacy group for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

“Obviously we do have a huge issue here with our waiver system,” said Perryman. “It’s atrocious that we weren’t able to pay them a sub-minimum wage. This is something that we’ve been working to address.”

People with disabilities are disproportionately represented among all people experiencing homelessness. According to a 2018 report by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 24% of houseless individuals nationwide are people with disabilities. 

Candidates Discuss Abolishing the School to Prison Pipeline 

The candidates for lieutenant governor also spoke on the subject of student resource officers (SROs) in schools. Everyone on the virtual debate stage agreed police have no place in schools, except for McClellan. 

“We need to remove cops from schools,” Perryman said. “We’re criminalizing childlike behavior and when we introduce a cop into a school environment, we know what’s going to happen. It’s going to lead to increasing arrests of Black, brown, and students with disabilities. Period. This is a trend nationwide. So we need to have more counselors in our schools.”

According to the Americans for Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), law enforcement habitually polices Black communities more severely than white ones, and this remains true in the education setting. 

Instead of abolishing their presence on school grounds, McClellan says Virginia should invest in more training for SROs. 

“I think our SROs need to be better trained. I think we need additional services, mental health services, folks who have trauma-informed care backgrounds in our schools. The system right now doesn’t work and it needs to be reformed,” said McClellan. 

Candidates all agreed during the debate to form a youth advisory council if elected lieutenant governor. Additionally, they also all committed to paying their campaign interns a livable wage. 

What Do the Polls Say About the Candidates? 

Two recent straw polls in the lieutenant governor’s race, which were released over the weekend of March 27, predict two very different outcomes. 

A poll conducted by Fairfax Democrats shows Sam Rasoul in the lead with 57% of the vote. The rest of the vote, according to this poll, went to Sean Perryman. He won the remaining 43% of ballots cast. 

A poll released the same night by Arlington Democrats has Guzam instead in the lead for the lieutenant governor’s office. That poll says Rasoul won second place with 19% of the vote. Perryman was in third with 15%, and Ayala in fourth with 11% of the votes in the poll. McClellan only earned 6% of those votes. Only 4% of the votes cast in this poll went to Levine and Warren. 

RELATED: McClellan, Foy Pick Up Wins in Weekend Straw Polls

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