As the race for Virginia’s next governor heats up, Republican candidate Ed Gillespie is pressing his support for small business and opposition to taxes and regulation.
Speaking at a roundtable with a group of Loudoun business and political leaders on Jan. 17, Gillespie said despite Virginia’s $1.2 billion budget deficit, tax cuts are still the best solution. The former Republican National Committee Chair is confident his approach will strengthen Virginia’s economy and the Commonwealth as a whole.
“I know that will be a fight because liberals will say ‘you can’t cut taxes when we have a revenue shortfall in Richmond.’ My answer is we’re not going to cover that shortfall when you raise taxes on hard-working Virginians and shrinking their paychecks,” Gillespie said.
While Virginia’s unemployment rate has dropped to less than five percent under Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Gillespie said labor participation is also at a 10-year low and Virginia lost 69,000 manufacturing jobs in the past year alone.
“The governor will put out a press release any time a second grader opens up a lemonade stand, take credit for it and pass a regulation and a tax to make it harder for them to stay open. We’ve got to foster more organic economic growth,” Gillespie said.
He said creating an environment conducive to small business growth will be the key to economic prosperity. Instead of targeted incentives for specific companies, Gillespie said he supports a more holistic approach that includes physical and educational infrastructure.
“The governor will put out a press release any time a second grader opens up a lemonade stand, take credit for it and pass a regulation and a tax to make it harder for them to stay open. We’ve got to foster more organic economic growth.” Ed Gillespie
That includes the Go Virginia initiative, a program that invests in economic development regionally, and that is championed by several local groups including the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.
“I think Go Virginia is a little more forward thinking, a little more fundamental broad based economic development as opposed to a rifle shot,” Gillespie said.
Cuts in regulations is another major component of Gillespie’s campaign. He’s looking at environmental regulations placed on construction projects, he said, and specifically advocated for a lift on development bans off Virginia’s deep sea coast.
“States are supposed to be a check on federal overreach and we haven’t been a check on that too often in Virginia,” Gillespie said. “And our mentality, seems to me, in our state department and agencies which are serving the people of the Commonwealth is that it’s the Richmond branch of the EPA.”
Gillespie also said he’d like to end binding arbitration for Metro workers and supports legislation by Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) to reshape the transit system’s governing structure. He said labor costs per mile of rail are higher than in New York, San Francisco or Boston. Metro rail is currently expanding with six new stations in Virginia, including three in Loudoun County.
The Commonwealth’s gubernatorial race is expected to be the most closely watched contest in the nation this year. Virginia, along with New Jersey, is one of two states with gubernatorial elections this year. The election has typically been seen as a referendum on the first year of a new presidency, and Gillespie said the Republican Governors Association has already committed $5 million to the race.
Gillespie surprised many political observers with a closer-than-expected election result when he challenged Democrat U.S. Senator Mark Warner. He started the race down 29 points and lost by less than one percent.
The surprising run helped make Gillespie an early favorite for the governorship when he announced his candidacy last year. Recent polling shows him maintaining a lead in name recognition and favorability over Prince William Board of Supervisors chair Corey Stewart, state senator Frank Wagner and businessman Denver Riggleman as they vie for the Republican Party nomination that will be determined by a primary election in June. Gillespie has support from the majority of the Republicans in the General Assembly and the Republican delegation in Congress.
If he secures his party’s nomination, he’ll likely go up against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. A former physician and state senator, Northam is expected to secure the Democrats nomination in a two-person race against former congressman Tom Perriello. The Virginia constitution prohibits incumbent governors from seeking re-election, and McAuliffe has endorsed Northam to succeed him.
Gillespie said he was best equipped to work with the federal government on behalf of Virginia. He said Comstock is a friend of 30 years and he is close with much of Virginia’s congressional delegation and many top officials in Washington.
“I know all these folks,” Gillespie said. “I’ll be able to work with them to help get these things done.”