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Northam and Gillespie spar over statues, healthcare, and immigration

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RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia gubernatorial candidates Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie faced off at the Tysons headquarters of Capital One Tuesday afternoon for their second gubernatorial debate that showcased their disagreement about the removal of confederate statues. The debate also focused on the future of healthcare and immigration.

The candidates were challenged by moderator Chuck Todd of NBC’s “Meet The Press” to defend their views on Confederate statues in public spaces, an issue that put Virginia under the national spotlight after violence broke out at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville last month.

“Personally, I believe that these statues should be in museums with historical context, so that if someone wants to go look at the statues they can. But if they don’t, they’re not glaring them in the face,” Northam, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current Virginia Lieutenant Governor, said in a press gaggle after the debate.

While both candidates expressed disdain for the white supremacist ideology and argued that local discussions were necessary to determine which steps should be taken next, they disagreed on where the monuments should be placed.

“​I would maintain the state-controlled statues, and I would encourage the cities and counties not to take down statues, because I don’t think it’s the best use of their tax dollars,” Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor, said.

Supporters of both candidates rallied outside the Capital One headquarters in McLean, along Route 123, to cheer on Northam and Gillespie ahead of the debate. Currently, Northam and Gillespie are in a close race for the Nov. 7 election.

The debate was held just hours after news broke of the proposed Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill, a final effort by Republicans in the U.S. Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act before the Sept. 30 budget-procedure deadline.

When asked if the Graham-Cassidy bill was a good deal for Virginians, Gillespie said that it fell short because it “punishes Virginia for not being an expansion state and for being fiscally prudent with our Medicaid dollars.”

Despite his problems with the proposed bill, Gillespie denounced the Affordable Care Act and Northam’s continued support of it.

Northam too criticized the bill by saying that it would cause 500,000 Virginians to be at risk of losing their coverage. But he was adamant in his opposition against the single-payer healthcare plan proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a fellow Democrat.

Instead, Northam proposed a shift away from quantity-based and towards an outcome-based healthcare system.

The debate also focused on issues of immigration, such as sanctuary cities and the announced end to the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA.

Gillespie argued that sanctuary cities should be banned and that illegal residents found guilty of violent crimes should be deported. But he also said that the so called “dreamers” under the DACA program should not be deported, explaining that these children did not make the decision to enter the U.S. illegally.

Northam said that because sanctuary cities do not currently exist in Virginia, the question of their legality is “a solution looking for a problem.” He added that local law enforcement and state police need to be supported in order to keep Virginia cities safe.

Instead of focusing on the question of sanctuary cities in Virginia, Northam suggested that immigration issues needed to be addressed via legislation.

"Congress needs to do their job and sit down at the table and come up with comprehensive immigration reform, and it would take care of a lot of these challenges and dilemmas that we're currently discussing,” said Northam.

By Megan Schiffres and Lia Tabackman (Special to

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