Even at the “End the Income Tax” rally, Corey Stewart and his supporters still wanted to talk about immigration.
At the April 17 event in Sterling, the Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate spent the majority of his time talking about combating illegal immigration. Two months before the GOP primary, Stewart is continuing to center his campaign on his plans to combat illegal entry by foreigners into the Commonwealth, and the crime he fears comes with them.
“Our No. 1 job as elected leaders is to protect you and your families, to protect your lives, to protect your safety, and to protect your rights,” Stewart told several dozen supporters. “If we don’t get that right, nothing else matters.”
If elected, Stewart has promised that Virginia will have the toughest crackdown on illegal immigration of any state. He would do so in large part by expanding 287(g) programs across the Commonwealth, which would allow law enforcement entities to enter into partnerships with ICE officials and be deputized into their department. These agreements have received widespread criticism from the NAACP and ACLU as well as Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), and Prince William County is now the only jurisdiction in Virginia with a 287(g) agreement.
If Stewart was elected and carried forward these agreements, it would continue the precedent he set more than a decade ago leading the Prince William Board. He helped enact one of the nations most rigorous and high profiles deportation policies, detaining someone who was arrested and suspected by a police officer and a magistrate to be in the country illegally while awaiting trial. If subsequently convicted of a crime, that person would be turned over to immigration enforcement for deportation once they completed their sentence.
Stewart has said this had led to the deportation of of more than 7,500 illegal Prince William County residents and a significant drop in crime. A study by Prince William County supported his claim of a lower overall crime rate, but it also found serious crimes rates stayed about the same. Outside studies have shown illegal immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than citizens. Meanwhile the Prince William study showed support and trust among Hispanics towards police officers went down.
This hard-line approach to immigration has led to widespread criticism from the left as well as trepidation from the more moderate factions of the party that are more likely to support Ed Gillespie in the Republican primary, the leader in major polls and Stewart’s main competition for the party’s nomination on June 13. He contends that the polling is a survey of all registered voters, many of whom won’t come out to vote during the primary. While he trails Gillespie 28 points to 12 among all Republicans, the gap narrows to a 27-19 edge among self identified “very conservative” voters. Stewart contends these voters will continue historic norms of disproportionately turning out for the primaries and help carry him to victory.
Stewart, who has won election to four terms representing a majority-minority jurisdiction, also says voters in diverse Prince William clearly support his policies and people across the Commonwealth will too. He also points out that his wife is an immigrant from Sweden, and that his polices are designed to abolish criminal, undocumented entry to the Commonwealth, not prevent people from a certain race or nationality from entering the country legally.
While his immigration stance resonated with the crowd in Sterling, it may be a tougher sell across the Commonwealth, or even the rest of the county. Stewart himself has called Loudoun one of if not the most important jurisdictions because of its large population and history as a swing county. But Loudouners, living in the county with the nation’s highest median household income, have shown they’re less concerned with illegal immigration, and more concerned with improving traffic and maintaining their quality of life as the once rural county becomes increasingly suburbanized.
His campaign has also promoted the most aggressive gun rights platform of any platform and made national headlines for raffling off an AR-15 riffle. National media is also focusing on his crusades to protect historic confederate monuments, and his recent endorsement by neo-confederate leader Richard Hines. Stewart’s detractors say both positions make him unpalatable to the majority of Virginians.
Stewart also has to overcome his continued support for Donald Trump in a state that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton by more than five points in the 2016 presidential election and more than twice that in Loudoun. Though he was fired as Trump’s Virginia campaign chair for leading a protest demanding more GOP support for Trump outside Republican National Committee headquarters, Stewart has continued outspoken support for the president. On April 17, he endorsed Trump’s proposed wall across America’s southern boarder and furthermore he supports making English the official language of Virginia.
While many in Northern Virginia decried Trump’s ban temporarily banning immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries, including Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock, Stewart has actively come out in favor of it. In Sterling, a few miles from Dulles Airport, he said the botched implementation and subsequent court rulings preventing the ban were because Trump’s full legal policy team hasn’t been fully cleared through Congressional approvals and background checks to take office. Once approved they will be able to properly secure the nation’s boarders.
With Gillespie likewise agreeing with the ban, albeit in a far more tepid manner, Stewart may gain traction by differentiating their tax policies. Gillespie has focused his campaign around a call for 10 percent across-the-board tax cuts for all Virginians. On April 17, Stewart went after Gillespie’s proposals saying a tax cuts needs an ensuing spending cut, which his opponent hasn’t laid out. Stewart said he would follow his budget cut strategies while serving as supervisors chair during the Great Recession, telling department heads in every division to identify proposals for 10, 20 and 30 percent cuts. They then identified the most appropriate cuts and where able to slash $185 million from the budget in one year, lowering Prince William residents’ tax bills by more than 10 percent.
He also countered Gillespie’s plan with a proposal to drop the Commonwealth’s highest marginal tax rate from 5.75 percent to 4.75 percent in a single year for the “biggest tax cut ever in Virginia history.” This will help the Commonwealth phase out its income tax, though Stewart admits more research is needed for a timeline and implementation. He said he knows it’s possible because of similar movement to get rid of the income tax by Florida, Texas and Tennessee.
Notwithstanding his discussion of taxes, illegal immigration continues to the be the prism through which all Stewart’s proposals are viewed.
‘If you’re looking for someone who is willing to challenge the left wing press, to challenge the left wing, to challenge establishment Republicans, if you’re looking for someone who is not afraid of controversy, and if you’re looking for somebody who knows how to win, then I’m your candidate for governor,” Stewart said.