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Forward with voting rights champ for governor or backward with Team Trump

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VIRGINIA’S voters will pick the state’s next governor in November.

The choice couldn’t be clearer and neither could the national implications of this race in a bellwether state. Not only is the Virginia election a curtain-raiser for the midterm elections of 2022, it’s also the biggest test, so far, of whether the Trumpified Republican Party can win major races.

The Democratic Party candidate, Terry McAuliffe, had a successful term as governor. The Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, is a super-wealthy businessman. Sound familiar? On one issue after another, voters can contrast Youngkin’s unproven claims with McAuliffe’s proven record.

Take voting rights, for example. During his 2014 to 2018 term, McAuliffe overcame Republican resistance and Jim Crow-era voting laws to restore voting rights to 173,000 Virginians.

What about Youngkin? He refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s victory for months — until after he won the Republican nomination — and has helped promote false right-wing claims about voter fraud that are being used by Republican legislators to justify restrictive voting laws around the country.

Just last month, Youngkin spoke at an “election integrity” rally organised by a Trump supporter who was outside the Capitol during the January 6 insurrection. No wonder former President Donald Trump has so enthusiastically endorsed Youngkin.

Youngkin promotes himself as if Virginia needs him to be some kind of saviour to pull the state out of the “ditch” he claims it is in. The Washington Post’s editorial board said Youngkin’s claim is “flatly contradicted by a tsunami of evidence to the contrary”. The state has a budget surplus, lower-than-average unemployment, and a AAA bond rating. This summer CNBC declared Virginia the top state in the country for business.

The real danger of the state dropping into a ditch comes from Youngkin himself. His desire to abolish the state’s income tax would slash the state’s ability to provide services to its residents.

When McAuliffe was governor he was so successful at attracting economic development and generating new jobs that he was named Public Official of the Year by Governing magazine in 2017. The magazine honoured McAuliffe “based on his success navigating an Opposition legislature, creating new jobs, and persevering in restoring the civil rights of more than 168,000 Virginians”. McAuliffe credited his team for helping him “build a stronger, more inclusive Virginia”.

In his previous term as governor, McAuliffe also oversaw record spending on education and created the country’s first workforce training programme to help people without a college education get access to jobs in high demand. He is pledging to build on that track record by raising teachers’ salaries above the national average, expanding access to preschool, and getting all students online.

Meanwhile, Youngkin’s search for ways to fire up right-wing voters has led him down another divisive road paved by Trump. Youngkin has joined Trump, Fox News, and right-wing activists who are trying to stop schools from having honest conversations about racism in American history, culture, and institutions. They’re hoping to inflame conservative white voters to drive turnout, and Youngkin has made it the centerpiece of his campaign.

His comments about Virginia schools show us that he will say or do anything to get power, no matter how much damage he does along the way.

Youngkin has failed another test that is of vital importance to Virginians’ health and economic future – dealing responsibly with the novel coronavirus pandemic. Youngkin opposes vaccine mandates and doesn’t think schools should require students to wear masks. He said he would follow the lead of Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, whose irresponsible policies have encouraged an upsurge in hospitalisations and deaths.

McAuliffe, on the other hand, knows that you can’t rebuild the economy if the pandemic is allowed to ravage the workforce and disrupt lives and jobs.

Virginia voters rejected Donald Trump twice, and I believe they will reject Trump’s pick for governor.

McAuliffe, whose successful record as governor reflects his commitment to a Virginia that works better for everyone, deserves Virginians’ votes. The nation will be watching.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way. He has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned non-profit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.