EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Republican Lt. Gov. Candidate Glenn Davis

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Republican Lt. Gov. Candidate Glenn Davis

While his opponents have centered campaigns on conservative wedge issues, Republican Lt. Gov. candidate Glenn Davis is focusing on the issue he’s confident matters most to voters.

Davis, a business owner and two-term delegate from Virginia Beach, says jobs and the economy are most important to voters. State Sens. Jill Vogel and Bryce Reeves, who are also competing for the GOP’s nomination for the Lt. Gov. position, have contrasted by centering their campaigns on major conservative issues, like support for gun rights and pro life positions. Those policies, and candidates, have risen to the top of the polls and fundraising totals, with Davis trailing in both categories. Come the June 13 primary, Davis believes voters will turn to his background creating jobs and working to enhance Virginia’s business environment.

Last month the candidate spoke with the Tribune, going over how he plans to help Virginia’s economy, protect gun rights and lead Virginia while holding the Commonwealth’s second-highest elected office.

Why have you made business and job growth the central issue of your campaign?

Virginia used to be No. 1 for business and job growth. People really did have economic opportunity, regardless of where they lived in Virginia. Entrepreneurs really had the chance to create opportunities for themselves and their families. But that’s slipping away. The concept of the American dream has been getting further and further away through the taxes, the burdens and regulatory burdens that have been continually put on the backs of the small business owners and in many cases, Virginia has not kept up with the changes in tax reform that lots of other states have done and we’ve been falling behind. We don’t operate in a vacuum, and unfortunately we’ve been kicking the can down the road and that’s why now we’re 13th in the nation for business, not No. 1 like we used to be and we have the 30th worst tax policies.

Virginia’s 3.8 percent unemployment rate is below the national average and the lowest its been since spring 2008. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has touted this as an indicator of Virginia’s economic strength. How do you contrast your views with that of the governor’s? 

I’ve been saying since I started running for office that it doesn’t matter necessarily what the unemployment rate is when you’re looking at the underemployment rate. If you swap out a $60,000 a year job with a $30,000 a year job, you haven’t fixed the problem. Even the S&P has recently come out with and agreed with me, because it’s shown that it’s downgraded Virginia from neutral to negative in the obligation bank.

In their report, that’s exactly what they spoke about, about how the income levels of Virginians have been decreasing. It’s not just the employment rate that’s important. If everyone is working at McDonald’s, you don’t have a strong economy. You have to have a diversified economy and you have to have well-paying jobs for the people that have the skill sets and you want to keep in Virginia.

Support for free, two-year community college for all Virginians has gained momentum from Democratic candidates in this year’s race, with proponents saying it’s a necessary step to give more citizens a chance at a successful career. Would you support such a program?

We can’t do free, but we need to make sure that college and our education is affordable. We need to make sure that when they come out they don’t have the debt. We need to go back down the route that we had with (former Gov.) George Allen. We froze tuition costs for a while and everyone thought the sky was going to fall, but the quality of our education continued to grow. That’s been released, and we’ve seen costs sky rocket.

We need to get a hold on those costs, doing that again, but also as we go forward, as we look at places like Indiana and other states where funding for higher education is based on a set of metrics that coincide with the success of the students. So things like graduation time, things like coming out to get a job, if they get a job in their field, whatever metrics we deem appropriate, and other states might have different metrics than Virginia, but that would take us all marching down the same scenario. If we have the schools best preparing our students, they’re going to be best prepared to walk out and get that job to start their career and start their family. It’s two parts. First it’s to control the upfront costs and secondly to make sure the debt is too high.

The third piece is that for those that college isn’t for them, it’s the vocational side. We’re sorely lacking when it comes to welders when it comes to the trades. At this point in time, we have such a shortage of them. More and more businesses are willing to hire talented high school graduates and put them through their own training, because things are so specialized now. Manufacturers are no longer about the assembly lines from our grandfathers. Now it’s robots, but you have to have skilled labor to create the programming for the robots, manufacture and maintain the robots. That’s why manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., because of all the necessary skilled labor that’s coming back.

Another issue has been campaign financing, and several candidates have pledged not to take any money from public utilities like Dominion Power, saying it biases them against doing what’s best for the Commonwealth. Would you sign such a pledge?

There has to be transparency. Elected officials should be held accountable. But donations to a two-year campaign doesn’t mean you’re going to help them with anything. All it means is that they believe in you and they believe in what you stand for and they want to see you in office. I’ve had some pretty sizable donors and we disagreed on some of their largest projects. I would sit down and explain why I didn’t agree with them and there was still respect there.

I don’t think that taking campaign contributions from entities at all is inherently bad as long as those are displayed to the public and then the public can question whether or not they think it has influence. In my case, it’s easy to see that Glenn has agreed with them here, and disagreed with them there. No one always agrees 100 percent of the time, but I always thought donations meant that people respect you and they agree with what you’re trying to do with the citizens you represent and not that there’s any expectation for agreement in future policies.

Dominion itself has also become a central topic of this campaign cycle for creating two pipelines across Virginia. Opponents say it could damage the environment, interferes with personal property and won’t create the jobs or energy independence supports say it will. Where do you stand?

We have to have the two pipelines. We do. I appreciate Dominion working with some of the areas like Nelson County and others. I know they’re still working with some on the path, but at the end of the day energy really is right now a cornerstone of our country. It’s everything from national security to economic opportunity, so we have to be able to have those pipelines. It’s reasonably priced energy for our Commonwealth, it’s reliable and we need to make sure we have access to it.

Your opponents in the Republican primary have both touted themselves as the candidate most in support for gun rights and made it a cornerstone of their campaigns. Why should gun right supporters vote for you?

Anyone can say anything. You won’t know what they’ll do till they’re faced with that scenario. I can tell you that I will still stand up for families, because I’ve been in the family that’s had a victim. I’ve been in the family that’s had to deal with it, and the comments, the anger, there’s always a lot of anger at that time, and in my family, the anger wasn’t at guns. It wasn’t that we have to crack down on guns or that type of thing. There was some anger based on parole, and thoughts that (the killer) was out on parole, and I’ve been here through this and I know there’s a lot of anger and a lot of it may be misplaced.

We need to realize it’s not the guns. We have to keep guns out of the wrong people’s hands, but the answer is not cracking down on law abiding citizens. I have (an uncle) who may very well be with us today if he had had his weapon with him at that time. Who knows, but it may have been different. That’s where I stand, and I stand firmly because of personal experience.

That’s what I have a problem with over a lot of politicians. We don’t make this country better on rhetoric and sound bites. Its what people say in times of emotion that honestly show who they are or what they believe. That’s not to say they’re wrong or bad or anything like that. Don’t expect people to change in their beliefs. I feel for people when faced with tragedy and emotions of others cave a little, but if you’ve been there yourself it’s a little bit different. That’s why as far as it comes to the second amendment, I’m stronger than either of them. I know where I’ll be.

McAuliffe and Democrats in the General Assembly have pushed repeatedly for Virginia to opt into a federal Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act. Virginia is one of only 19 states not to do so, and proponents say Republican-led efforts to block expansion is denying medical coverage to 400,000 Virginians. Why are you against the expansion, and what do you want to see changed with Medicaid in the future?

We have to understand the terms of this. I voted against it six times, voting against the expansion or policies that would allow the governor to do it unilaterally in the off session. Virginia has been expanding Medicaid for every budget cycle going back to 1997. In 2006, the cost to Virginia to medical was around $4 billion. Now it’s $8 billion. The number of people on Medicaid four years ago was 1.1 million. Now it’s over 1.4 million. Medicaid has been expanding.

The whole idea that we should have Medicaid expansion is such a misnomer. Medicaid has been expanding, both in population and in cost. We need a solution that starts to shrink the cost to the Commonwealth. It used to be 5 percent of our budget, now it’s close to 20 percent. It’s unsustainable and eventually will bankrupt the Commonwealth. Do we expand the present system? No. I don’t support it and won’t support it. But we also can’t put our head in the sand, because Medicaid, unless we do something to completely reform it, it will sink Virginia’s budget. That’s why we have to put reforms in place.

Medicaid is now a bit of a hostage system. If you make $1 over the allowable minimum you lose all your benefits. This happened to a cousin of mine. People can’t take a $1 an hour raise, they can’t take a promotion because they lose all their benefits, which far outweighs the small increase. If we put a plan in place that allows them to walk off Medicaid, then the able bodied, able minded gets off that system. The reason why we have such tremendous cost in people is once they’re in they’re staying. They’re captive in there, and we just keep adding people to the pool. Let’s create a system that lets them walk out. Let’s say they get a promotion that gets over the allowable limit, part of that goes to the state to offset the costs of the benefits, the majority of it goes to the individual.

President Donald Trump has dominated political discussions since he announced his candidacy two years ago. That continues in the Virginia races, and where many candidates stand on Trump’s policies are major concerns for voters. Among the most controversial in Virginia is Trump’s proposed travel ban preventing travel from a group of predominately Muslim countries, that opponents have called mean spirited and illegal. Where do you stand on the ban?

There was a lot of misnomer to it. It wasn’t necessarily an immigration ban. My great grandfather came over from Italy. Our nation was founded on immigrants and I’d argue that some of the most successful entrepreneurs from the past and through today are first and second-generation immigrants. But the most important thing for the safety of our nation is to know who is in our country. That’s something we have to get a foothold on.

We have to know, if you come here, who’s here. You have to be here because you want to be part of this country, you want what America provides, the opportunity that we provide, not to do us harm. If you look at what President Barack Obama did with temporary travel suspension and no light got shined on when he did it, but all of the sudden Trump did it and it blows up. Trump has a habit of making everything a little bit larger with him, but if you break down what he’s doing with the immigration policy it was nothing Obama didn’t do. He made it a lot bigger, it got a lot of attention and the media came down on it like they never did with Obama.

If you look at the principal of it, do we need to know who is in the country? Yes. Do people need to come here legally? Yes they should. That become a crux of this. Do we need to reform immigration at the federal level? Of course we do. Washington needs to start getting progress on that and a lot of other issues. It’s worrisome that we don’t have a Washington that we had with Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil. They didn’t always agree, but they were able to get progress. Now we have a stalemate. That’s not only hurting our nation, it’s over time been showing up in state legislatures, which gets scary.

Democratic candidates in this race have supported a minimum wage increase, with several advocating lifting Virginia’s current rate from $7.25 an hour to $15. Advocates say this will give workers a “living wage” and help lift them out of poverty. You have come out against raising the minimum wage. How do you propose increasing wages for Virginians?

It’s simple how you increase wages. When you increase the demand for labor over the supply for labor, wages go up. We learned that in economics in high school. If you want to raise the raise the price of something, trade demand in excess of supply. Remember, 70 percent of jobs are created by small businesses. If we help create small business and help them become successful, there will be a significant impact on entry level labor, and that entry level price tag is going to go up.

I saw it when I started my company. My first hire was someone in the front office in 2002. I started their salary at $9.50 an hour, because we knew the quality of the person we wanted. We couldn’t pay them minimum wage because we knew what the market held for that person. I believe in raising the minimum wage, not through the government, but through the free market.

Among the biggest advocates for the minimum wage increase is Susan Platt, one of three Democratic Lt. Gov. candidates and the leader in many polls. Assuming Platt wins, how do you contrast yourself with your would-be opponent in the general election?

You could not get a better contrast than Platt and myself. She was Joe Biden’s chief of staff and I admire Biden, because of his history and personal story and everything like that, but you have one of the strongest supporters of unions, minimum wage increases, that sort of thing in Washington. She is no different. If you take that person against an entrepreneur and you have the clash of a lifetime.

I think I stack up really well. The free market and the American Dream vs should government dictate everything. That contrast will bode very well for our party and help us be successful in 2017. She’s going to come strong on the minimum wage increase, and I’m standing over here having worked with small businesses and started small businesses and I can explain the impact on a minimum wage increase, not because I read a book but real-world experience.

Lt. Gov. is a largely ceremonial position without much official power beyond breaking ties in the Senate. Why are you running for this office instead of the governorship?

I think I can get this done as Lt. Gov. I don’t do well treading water. I only like to be in positions where I know there’s challenges to overcome and I can do that as Lt. Gov. The interesting thing about Lt. Gov. is that they say it’s a part time job, and like every other political office, it’s what we make of it. I made city council a full-time job. Same with Delegate. This campaign is a full time job for me.

With the time you get as Lt.Gov., it’s going to give me the time to travel the Commonwealth, continue to find these unique challenges and opportunities and find solutions to put in place to help people. That’s what I value the most. It’s uniquely fit. It’s almost building on some of the prior Lt. Govs. It’s not about winning a title. It’s about making a difference.

For many former Lt. Govs., including incumbent Ralph Northam, this office has been a stepping stone for a run for governor once their term is over. If you win in 2017, will you run for governor in 2021?

We all know how progression works. With a strong Lt. Gov. and Attorney General, I hope I’m in the position people ask me to do that. I’d be honored to be asked by my party to run. My hope is that by the end of my term as Lt. Gov. that we don’t have to run that next race based on making Virginia No. 1 again because we’ve made it No. 1. If people think I would be a good governor and provide leadership on these issues, I’d be honored to but my goal is to fix the challenges I’ve identified now before my term as Lt. Gov. is over.

Against a field of two fellow Republicans and three Democrats, why should voters select you as their next Lt. Gov.?

I’m not doing this because I want a title. I have the two most important titles I can have of a husband and an entrepreneur. I’m not running because I want to be Lt. Gov. I’m running because I want to get something done. I know that I can help make Virginia No. 1 again for business and job growth. I know I can come up with solutions and have come up with solutions for areas in Southwest Virginia and Southside and the I-81 corridor and that sort of thing. I’m a problem solver. I love and get energized by taking on challenges, finding solutions and helping get them implemented. That’s what I do.