By HEATHER BRADY and ERIC STEIGLEDER
An impassioned Creigh Deeds warned against complacency on Saturday at a Democratic rally in Lee Hall, emphasizing to the Bullet that students should care about the election and about state politics in general.
“…it’s their future,” Deeds, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, said. “They should care because they gotta have a Virginia where they have jobs that they can go to once they finish school…They should care because they’re in the system of higher education right now so they have a future here.”
Steve Shannon, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, also spoke at the rally. He told the Bullet afterwards that he was concerned with on-campus safety and with the ability of students to become employed after graduation.
“The safety of our citizens is the most important thing the government needs to work on and it’s my job to make sure that our students are safe on campus,” Shannon said.
“I’m going to work very closely with our Boards of Visitors, our university presidents [and] our community college presidents, not only to make sure that our campuses are safe, but also to make sure that we are attracting companies to Virginia so that we can have good jobs for our students when they graduate,” he added. “That’s really a key role for the next attorney general.”
Deeds focused his speech on the rising cost of college tuition, a big concern for current and potential university students. He said he wants to increase the size of tuition assistance grants, which give aid to undergraduate and graduate students attending private colleges in Virginia.
He also outlined his plan for the creation of the Virginia Ford Scholarship, available to students at public colleges and universities in Virginia.
“If you have a ‘B’ average in high school and you’ll commit to two years of public service after you’re finished with college the state will pay you a scholarship for 50 percent of your tuition,” he said in his speech. “It gives more people the opportunity to be educated, and it gets people on the path of public service.”
In addition, Deeds told the Bullet that he plans to invest heavily in other forms of financial aid and in keeping tuition costs low.
“We’re also going to put $40 million additional each year into need-based financial aid,” Deeds said. “We’re going to increase the size of tax grants for students going to private schools. And we’re going to create tuition stabilization funds when we get to the point where we have surplus funds again.“
“I know that he’s used to having to see how much tuition goes up,” said Gus Deeds, Creigh Deeds’ son and a student at the College of William and Mary. “He’s seen it over six years. Last year I got nothing but e-mails about budget cuts from the president of William and Mary. When I’m talking to students about education, I tell them [that] if Mr. McDonnell gets elected, you’re going to get more emails about budget cuts.”
Labor unions, including the IUPAT (International Union of Painters and Allied Trades), the Insulators Union, and the Plasterers and Cement Union were represented at the rally in large numbers.
George Galis, an IUPAT member, said he supports Deeds for governor because of his stance on job creation and Deeds’ personal background.
“We think that on the issues for the working families of Virginia, he’s in the right place,” Galis said. “Tex incentives, creating jobs. We’re all about jobs. If you look at his background, he comes from a working family.”
In addition to labor union attendees, many Mary Washington students were also present.
“What I was really impressed by with all three candidates was their goals about moving Virginia forward,” junior Lindsay Meredith said. “That’s what I want to see happen and I think these three can do it.”
Meredith said she particularly liked Deeds’ attention to southwest Virginia, where she’s from, and his work in the area of education.
“He has a really good education record,” Meredith said. “As a student, I think he’ll pay attention to [education]. He’s endorsed by the Virginia Education Association. I hope he pays attention to financing scholarships and tuition as a state school.”
Junior Claire Tuley said that she was impressed with all of the candidates at the rally, including Deeds.
“I really enjoyed Deeds’ speech because he seemed really focused on bipartisanship and working towards goals that are important for Virginia, especially schools and transportation,” Tuley said. “It’s not just putting money into education. I think he’ll put time into the health and safety of students, which is important.”
Deeds said that Virginia needs to re-examine its relationship with higher education.
“It’s obvious that the system has become more exclusive,” Deeds said to the Bullet. “We have to take dramatic steps to control the cost of tuition.”
Deeds said that with the price escalation of tuition, Virginia is in danger of pricing many individuals out of the higher education system.
“If we don’t demand the right things from government, we get what we deserve,” he added. “It’s their government. It’s as simple as that.”