Candidates running in the 31st District faced off on gun reform, increasing the minimum wage and Virginia’s right-to-work laws at a forum at Dar Al-Noor mosque in Prince William County.
Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, one of two Latinas ever elected to Virginia’s General Assembly, is aiming to hold onto a newly won district after being elected in 2017, when Democrats made sweeping gains in the state legislature.
Republican D.J. Jordan is challenging Guzman in the 31st District.
The Oct. 10 debate was moderated by Stephen J. Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington and director of its Center for Leadership and Media Studies and organized by the Prince William Area League of Women Voters and the Prince William Committee of 100.
Both candidates said they would support background checks to some degree.
The state GOP postponed a second vote on universal background checks during a July special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to address gun violence in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 people dead and four wounded.
Guzman said she would support legislation requiring background checks and called Republicans’ delay on the measure “unacceptable."
“When we are losing lives, like what happened in Virginia Beach, where you don’t feel safe to go to work in a government building, it’s unacceptable,” Guzman said.
Jordan said he would “support increased background checks” for firearms, making him one of few state GOP candidates to endorse such a measure. Jordan said both parties should come together “to discuss commonsense gun reform to keep people safe.”
“We should be able to do what Sen. Tim Kaine did when he was a governor to bring both parties together after the Virginia Tech massacre to actually discuss solutions,” Jordan said.
Following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, legislation to require background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows died in a Senate committee. Jordan didn’t respond to emails or phone calls from the Prince William Times about what specific gun measures he favors.
During a candidates’ forum in Fauquier in September, Jordan said, “one person dying from a gun is too many,” but “guns are not the problem. It’s guns in the hands of people with evil intent.”
Candidates were asked whether they would vote in favor of raising Virginia’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour. Virginia is one of 21 states that has not raised its minimum wage above the federal minimum.
Jordan said he is open to boosting Virginia’s minimum wage but said $15 an hour might not be “the right number” because it could lead to an increase in automation.
“We are already seeing it in places like McDonald’s and other restaurants where some of these jobs are going away,” Jordan said.
Jordan, who is African American, referenced a recent study by McKinsey & Co. called “The Future of Work in Black America,” which showed that African Americans are likely to be hit hardest during the next decade as automation continues to chip away at blue-collar jobs.
“We’re talking about minimum wage. We should be talking about how to prepare our workers for the future,” Jordan said.
Republicans killed a bill to raise Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 an hour in a party-line vote in the state Senate this year. The measure would have brought the minimum wage to $15 an hour incrementally between 2020 and 2024.
A House bill to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour in 2020 was killed in a majority-Republican subcommittee in January.
Guzman said she would support an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. “Virginia is one of the wealthiest states, and our workers deserve a living wage,” Guzman said.
Virginia is one of 27 right-to-work states in the nation, meaning workers can’t be compelled to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Detractors of the state’s right-to-work laws say they favor big business at the expense of workers and restrict workers’ ability to unionize.
Guzman said she is in favor of repealing the state’s right-to-work law. She referenced a recent Oxfam report that ranked Virginia last in the nation in worker’s rights as one reason to repeal the law.
Oxfam, a British anti-poverty nonprofit, ranked Virginia 51st in the nation, including Washington D.C., for workers’ rights based on its 2019 “Best and Worst States to Work in America” index, which evaluates each state on worker wages, worker protections and the ability to organize. Virginia ranked last in all three categories.
Virginia was ranked the best in the nation for business by CNBC in 2019.
Guzman said repealing Virginia’s right-to-work would mean workers would, “have a seat at the table so they can have conversations about training, safety and benefits. Right now, they are never involved in that conversation,” Guzman said.
Jordan says he is in favor of keeping Virginia’s right-to-work law on the books. He said the right-to-work law is needed to “actually protect workers’ rights. Workers should not have to join a union or pay dues if they don’t want to,” Jordan said.
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