Virginia Democrats will choose between veterans of the state legislature and the executive branch when they select their preferred candidate for lieutenant governor in the June primary.
Sen. Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist from Norfolk, is serving his second term in the Virginia Senate, representing the 6th District. He was first elected in 2007.
Aneesh Chopra, of Arlington, is a former Virginia Secretary of Technology and served as the White House chief technology officer during President Barack Obama’s first term.
While the two share common political ideology, their respective backgrounds in government are coloring their campaigns and their approaches to state issues.
One of Northam’s motivations for running for lieutenant governor is to give Democrats control of the Senate again. There has been too much focus on highly partisan issues such as reproductive rights and voter identification since the Senate became evenly divided between the parties in 2011 and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) began utilizing his tie-breaking vote on a more frequent basis, Northam said.
“For the last two years, I think the legislature has sort of lost direction,” he said. “I want to be able to use my experience and move Virginia in a positive direction.”
Chopra’s campaign is centered around his ideas for growing the state’s economy, especially through the use of technological solutions.
The state has under-invested in education, Chopra said, and it needs to refocus on that priority to ensure that Virginia continues to have a highly educated and skilled workforce. But in addition to resources, he said, the state needs to back innovations.
“I don’t think that our education system can work any harder than it already is, but it can work smarter,” he said.
Education also is a high priority for Northam who, like Chopra, would like to see the state invest more on either side of the K-12 years — preschool and college.
Northam also would like to see the state develop additional post-secondary training opportunities for those who don’t want to attend a four-year college.
“We need to make sure that they have the proper vocational and technical training so that they can be prepared to enter the workforce,” he said.
Northam said he would also continue the focus on environmental issues that he has had in the legislature, such as the bill he cosponsored to ban phosphorous in fertilizers. The state has made improvements in the health of the Chesapeake Bay, he said, but there is more that needs to be done.
He also believes Virginia has been missing out on opportunities to develop a more robust alternative energy industry.
“We need to have a comprehensive energy plan that incentivizes alternative energy,” Northam said. “We need to become less dependent on fossil fuels.”
Chopra also is a supporter of alternative energy, backing the use of wind and solar power and supporting investments in “smart grid” technology to support the electricity distribution infrastructure.
Growing the state’s economy also remains a priority issue for candidates in this election cycle. Both Chopra and Northam view other efforts, such as their educational initiatives, as key to economic growth.
“In order to attract businesses to the commonwealth, we have to have a strong infrastructure and transportation system, and we need to have a strong education system,” Northam said.
Chopra also believes the government can play a role in supporting business development, citing his work with Obama on the JOBS Act as an example. The Jump-start Our Business Startups Act, passed in 2012, changed securities regulations to make it easier for new companies to access venture capital.
“I strongly believe that our economy should be led by the diversity that we live with,” he said. “We’ve got to lower some of the burdens that make it harder for women and minorities in particular to access capital.”
Both candidates have picked up endorsements from other Democratic elected officials in the state and both have won informal straw polls at different party events.
Northam declared his candidacy months later than Chopra did and was prohibited from raising money during the legislative session, so he is lagging his opponent in overall fundraising.
Northam raised just less than $450,000 in the first quarter of this year, about equal to what Chopra raised for the quarter. However, Chopra had more than $900,000 in the bank as of March 31, compared to about $300,000 for Northam.