Edward Walter Gillespie is an American Republican Party politician and lobbyist. He was the 61st Chair of the Republican National Committee and was Counselor to the President in the George W. Bush administration.
The following has been edited and condensed for clarity. The views shared here do not reflect nor do they suggest the views of the Virginia Review of Politics.
Alex Hendel (Interviews Editor, Virginia Review of Politics): You were widely believed to be the presumptive Republican nominee for Governor coming into this year. However, you narrowly defeated Corey Stewart, who was running on an agenda similar to President Trump’s. What do you believe this says both about the national Republican party and the Republican party in Virginia?
Ed Gillespie: Well, obviously you always have primary nominational contests – I always knew the nomination would be close but I also knew that I would win it and that I’d be able to win in November, because I’m running on an agenda to get Virginia growing again, to create jobs and raise take take-home pay, to help people lift themselves out of poverty. I’ve put forward a plan for economic growth that will benefit all Virginians. A centerpiece of the plan is my proposal to cut our individual income tax rates by 10% across the board. That’s the first time since the rates were set in 1972 that we would lower them (in 45 years). It’s time for us to do that to be more competitive with surrounding states. We can do it in a fiscally responsible manner. The effect of that would be the creation of more than 53,000 new, additional, full-time, private sector, good paying jobs all across the Commonwealth. That’s a 25% increase over current projections. I think that’s one of the reasons that people are rallying to my campaigns, [because] I’ve got this agenda for economic growth, and people see that I’ve got 19 specific detailed policy proposals, on my website, to address the challenges we face in Virginia. At the end of the day, that’s why I think we’re going to win this race.
VRoP: Thank you, but going back to the question: do you believe there’s a reason that people didn’t resonate so much with that platform in the primary?
EG: Well like I say, in primaries people have candidates that they like better than other candidates, it’s just like in a general election. But I know that supporters of Corey Stewart and Frank Wagner in the primary are supporting me now and the party is unifying.
VRoP: In the Virginia Bar Association debate between you and Lt. Gov Northam, you mentioned that maps drawn by nonpartisan redistricting commissions “don’t look a lot different” from those drawn by legislatures. Does this mean you would oppose legislation to implement such a system in Virginia?
EG: No, I’ve said I’m open to it. But I’d want to see how it would work. I can get our press people get you some examples of what I’m talking about, but in many of these places where there’s been nonpartisan redistricting, the maps don’t look a whole lot different from places where there’s partisan redistricting.
VRoP: There is a Supreme Court case going on right now [Gill v Whitford], focusing on the issue of partisan redistricting. Do you think there should be a limit on the degree to which partisan gerrymandering should be allowed or shouldn’t be allowed?
G: Well as you said I think there is a case pending in the Supreme Court, and we’ll see what the Supreme Court decides, but I’m not that steeped in that case, I don’t know the details of that case, but I’d be eager to see what the Supreme Court rules.
VRoP: In describing your tax plan, you have labelled its tax cuts as revenue neutral, using “revenue triggers.” What does this mean, and how does it work?
G: We project $3.4 billion in new revenue to our treasury in Richmond over the next five years. Even with anemic economic growth, you get some revenue growth. What I’ve proposed is that we increase spending by $2 billion but we allow for hardworking Virginians to keep $1.4 billion in tax relief. It would be phased in over three years, in a fiscally responsible manner that would protect our AAA bond rating, that would protect core government functions like education, transportation, and law enforcement – in fact, as I mentioned we’d be able to increase spending by $2 billion dollars on those things.
If the revenue did not come in, there are triggers that would be put in place that would either slow down or delay the tax cuts so that we do protect those core government functions. I believe the impact of that, when you end up creating over 53,000 new, additional, full-time, good paying, private sector jobs will be, over time, much more money coming into our treasury. Because right now we have 0.6% economic growth in the Commonwealth, we’re 39th out of 50 states, and wage growth is 44th out of 50 states, and we hit a ten year low in labor force participation rate last year. We can get more Virginians back into the workforce, good paying jobs, with wages rising, and that will result in revenue coming in. But I’, not basing the tax relief on my assumption, I’m basing it on the static projections on what we are saying will come into the treasury over the next five years ($3.4 billion dollars), and saying let’s set aside $2 billion dollars of that to increase spending, but for every $3 of that $3.4 billion dollars, let’s allow hard working Virginians to keep $2.
VRoP: Your tax plan also includes requirements that any local tax changes be revenue neutral. Does this conflict at all with the conservative principle of “government closest to the people?”
G: Well it’s not a mandate. What I’ve said is that we’ll work with these cities and counties to identify more productive means of business tax revenue that don’t stifle job creation of small business formation, like the Business Professional Occupational Licenses tax (the BPOL), or the Machinery and Tools tax or the Merchant Capital tax. If they choose not to do that, they can keep what they’ve got. But I think that a lot of them would be very open to and wanting to reform their business tax sources in their cities and counties, because they’re very antiquated and they’re very counterproductive to job creation and small business creation and expansion.
VRoP: You’ve spent much of your career in national Republican politics, as chair of the RNC and consultant to President Bush, as well as chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee. To what extent can a national perspective guide you as Virginia Governor?
G: I think my experience in a legislative branch and in the White House are helpful to me. My experience as chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, as Chairman of Governor Bob McDonnell’s campaign, having worked to elect a lot of our legislators in our general assembly here in Virginia, and having been the nominee in the United States Senate in 2014 are also helpful to me. I think my experience will help make me an effective Governor for the people of Virginia.
VRoP: Do you believe there is anything about that experience that you alone can bring to the Governorship?
G: Well, I think when you see in the White House and the Oval Office at that level the decision making process, I think that’s helpful experience to see that up close. If you can tell from my campaign where I have these 19 specific policy proposals that I’ve put forward in the course of the campaign, going through the motions of policy, and trying to enact policies that do make life better for all Virginians. I think that experience has been helpful to me in crafting that policy and working with people from all across the Commonwealth to get their ideas and their thoughts, to shape that policy. And then also having members of our General Assembly involved in the shaping of the policy, so that when we win, we’ll be able to govern: they’ll be working with me to implement policies that we helped come up with together.
VRoP: Youth voter turnout is perennially lower than other demographic groups, especially in non-presidential years. How can we increase youth voter turnout, and why should young people vote for you on November 7th?
G: Well, for one thing what we’ve seen over the past three years in Virginia is that more people have moved out of Virginia than into Virginia. We have never seen that before, since we started collecting that data in 1978. Last year 51% of those who moved out took a four-year college degree with them. I believe that reflects a lack of opportunity here in the Commonwealth. If we can create 53,000 new jobs and increase job creation by 25%, I think that obviously is going to result in a lot more opportunity for a lot of students graduating from our high schools and our colleges here in the Commonwealth. I’ve also been working very hard on college campuses, and we’re trying to increase turnout there to make sure that students vote, because I think my agenda is very much in line with that. I’ve been campaigning in campuses. I was at Virginia Tech last weekend for the football game, working the tailgate, I did the tailgate at Hampton University. So I’m constantly working our campuses trying to increase our turnout there, because I really believe my policies will help. One of the things I’ve put forward as one of those 19 plans is a plan for higher education for our colleges and universities and to make college more affordable. That will the the goal of all of the Boards of Visitors appointees that I make as Governor (the Governor appoints the Boards of Visitors for all of the public colleges and universities in the Commonwealth. And I’ve also put forward this plan to make Virginia the opportunity capital, which is focused on our colleges and universities, and making them more engines of economic growth here through some strategic partnerships: with business in a lot of ways, in identifying what are the right degrees that we need to be conferring to meet the needs of the workplace of today and of the future; to have a greater spirit of partnership in terms of commercialization of the research that we do at our colleges and universities; and also a consumer focused partnership between our higher education partnerships and the students and families that they serve. This is all part of my higher education plan, which you can find on my website, and it’s one of the 19 policy proposals I’ve put forward.
VRoP: Do you think there are any specific steps that can be taken both as individuals and on the level of the Commonwealth to improve youth voter turnout?
G: Well I know we’re trying to improve youth voter turnout, and I think that is a function of campaigns – you know campaigns need to turn out their voters, and I am very focused on youth voter turnout in my campaign.
VRoP: What piece of legislation would you most like to sign into law if elected?
G: Well the first thing I will do upon being sworn in is to enact an executive order that would ban all gifts to me and those in my immediate family and all of my political appointees. That’s part of a broader ethics and campaign finance reform package that I put forward in this campaign as one of those 19 policies. Bu to me the things we’ve got to do and that are my top priorities are to get our economy growing again and getting the tax relief and reforms done is a high priority. But we wouldn’t be able to do that until a special session in September, because you have to have the right data and you have to have the right access to that data, which requires actually being in office, to make sure you’re making the right policy decisions. That is clearly a top priority. We’ve also got to address our K-12 and higher education system. That would be a priority for me in the general session of our General Assembly. And the other thing that we’ve got to do is address the awful opioid and heroin epidemic that we’re dealing with here in the Commonwealth. I’ve put forward a plan, my Addiction, Recovery, and Mental Health plan. That would be a priority as well, and public safety is a priority too.
VRoP: Your campaign recently released a new ad that ties Lt. Governor Northam to the gang MS-13, which has been critiqued by some as inaccurate or misleading. How do you respond to some of these criticisms?
G: The fact is, Lt. Governor Northam cast a vote in the State Senate against legislation that would prevent our cities and counties from becoming sanctuary cities. And he celebrated the Governor’s veto of that bill. I would sign that legislation. I don’t think it’s in the interest of the safety of our fellow Virginians to allow for cities and counties to declare themselves sanctuary cities. I believe when someone commits a crime here, and they’re here illegally, we need to cooperate with federal authorities and immigration officials, and that person should be deported consistent with the law. Allowing for sanctuary cities where people who are here illegally, who commit violent crimes to not be deported, and not have the cities and counties cooperate with federal authorities will not make us safer. And that applies particularly to MS-13, many of whom are here illegally. So I think there is a direct connection and a difference in policy. The Lieutenant Governor has never changed his position: he does not believe we should ban sanctuary cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I believe that we should. I should say also, that the people most vulnerable to victimization by MS-13 are in the immigrant community.
VRoP: Some people have said that these ads don’t actually portray members of the MS-13 gang, that there’s some underlying racial message in these ads. Do you believe that is inaccurate?
G: MS-13 is a transnational gang, and they are responsible for – according to public accounts – the murder of eight people in northern Virginia since November. The fact is that we need to confront and combat MS-13. And again, the people most at risk and most vulnerable to their violence are latinos and the immigrant communities themselves. So I will protect all Virginians and make all Virginians safer through my policy.
VRoP: But I think some of those criticisms are that the people portrayed in the ad are not actually in the gang.
G: They are gang members in a transnational gang. MS-13 is a transnational gang.
VRoP: You mentioned in a Washington Post interview that you “know the best ice cream stands all across Virginia.” Can you please tell me, for the record, which specific stand is your favorite?
VRoP: Thank you so much for taking this call. I really appreciate it.
G:Great to catch up with you, thank you.