Ralph Northam is the Democratic candidate for Governor in Virginia currently running in a tight race against Republican Ed Gillespie. Over the past month, Gillespie has run a series of controversial ads about Northam’s vote against a bill aiming to prevent sanctuary cities, a vote the adds link to the threat posed by violent street gang MS-13. In case you’re just hearing about this for the first time, MS-13 violence is a real issue in Virginia. In June, the Washington Post reported:
In the Washington region alone, at least 42 young people who crossed into the United States by themselves have been involved in MS-13 violence over the past three years, The Post found. That includes 19 charged in connection with slayings or attempted slayings and four who were killed.
Northam really did vote against a bill that would have banned sanctuary cities earlier this year. That bill later passed and was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, meaning Northam’s vote wasn’t decisive. In any case, yesterday Northam told a local news station he would sign such a bill if it came to his desk as governor. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
In an interview Wednesday with the Norfolk TV station WAVY, Northam said for the first time that, under certain circumstances, he would sign a bill similar to the one he voted against this year, a vote that spawned a wave of ominous ads from the Gillespie campaign linking Northam to the Latino gang MS-13.
“If that bill comes to by desk … I sure will. I’ve always been opposed to sanctuary cities. He knows that,” Northam said of Gillespie, whose MS-13-themed ads have been blasted by critics as racially tinged…
During a debate last month in Southwest Virginia, Gillespie asked Northam if he would sign legislation to ban sanctuary cities if one appeared in the future.
Northam reiterated his opposition to sanctuary cities, but didn’t give a direct response on whether he’d sign a bill.
Since Gillespie began putting out ads connecting Northam’s vote to MS-13, his defenders have claimed the entire issue is wrong-headed since, currently, there are no sanctuary cities in the state. Democrats have also claimed the entire issue is a racist dog-whistle, comparing it to the Willie Horton ad. But in one fell swoop, Northam has undercut both of those arguments. By saying he would sign such a bill he’s suggesting it’s a legitimate argument. He also has undercut the claim that it’s racist to consider such a bill. Not surprisingly, Think Progress is very disappointed. They put a piece titled “Days before the election, Northam caves to opponent’s racist ads on sanctuary cities”:
If Northam wins the state’s gubernatorial election next week, it will likely make him the first Democratic governor to support legislation to ban sanctuary cities…
Northam’s policies are sure to rattle the 272,000 undocumented immigrants living in Virginia. Overall, these individuals have contributed nearly $256 million in state and local taxes. Last month, Latinx advocacy groups launched a series of Spanish radio ads in support of Northam.
Northam is running out of time to clarify his remarks. The election takes place November 7th.