On Monday, March 27, students and journalists gathered in Old North to hear about Virginia’s gubernatorial governor race firsthand from one of the democratic candidates, Tom Perriello. The dialogue between students and candidate, moderated by the New York Times’ White House Correspondent, Michael Shear, revolved around Perriello’s experiences, qualifications, and “political courage” moving into this gubernatorial race.
Virginia is one of two states in the country that holds off-year elections. Shear prefaced his conversation with the reality that this election “gives us an idea of what the broader electorate thinks a year after a Presidential candidate.” The landscape is contrary to most states, and Perriello agreed, saying that this will be an election that defines the next decade of Virginia politics. He asserted “we will be a firewall against the politics of hate and bigotry” in the age of a Donald Trump presidency.
As a candidate, Perriello’s background can be attractive to Georgetown students interested in government and international politics. He is a Virginia native, Southern liberal running on state’s rights, has won a red district, and is a former Special Envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa under the Obama Administration. Students and Shear alike were curious about this balance: how does a politician bridge national and domestic interests with experiences in diplomacy?
Perriello shared that his peace negotiations overseas made it easier to come back and work in the United States. His experiences abroad have informed his work in talking and working with people from different cultures. Perriello believes this is how he won as a democrat in a red district, and as a “Yale guy who hung out in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone,” he is able to break down walls that may otherwise isolate Trump supporters. He joked that his “political courage” in voting in favor of the Affordable Care Act—a vote that cost him his seat in Congress—is often remarked as political courage. He responded, “the bar is low for political courage,” and went on describe the women he worked with abroad in catalyzing effective change within their communities, citing this as one of his inspirations in moving forward.
Once the floor opened for questions, students asked Perriello about protecting undocumented immigrants, gun control and universal background checks, and the Affordable Care Act. With health care, Perriello believes that Virginia will continue its efforts towards universality and affordability.
To his belief, the Affordable Care Act continues to survive today because of two reasons: stories and size. “Democrats see it beneath them to do storytelling,” but what he argues that people remember and fight for are the stories people shared, and the size of the protests that showed up to dispute the bill’s repeal. Perriello stated simply, “Democrats need to do more on logos and mythos.”
As Perriello is one of two democratic candidates running for governorship, he seemed adamant about what his run could mean for the state, the country, and the Democratic Party. “Virginia has come a long way. We are the birthplace of democracy and slavery.” He plans to push through with a campaign echoing progressive and inclusive values, which is now classified as a blueprint for the Democratic Party.