by Katherine Doyle, White House Correspondent (Washington Examiner)
Virginia’s only black governor accused fellow Democrats of taking the African American vote for granted, even as they neglect historically black colleges and tell parents to stay out of their children’s classrooms.
Douglas Wilder, who served from 1990 to 1994, said Virginia Democrats, including current Gov. Ralph Northam and candidate Terry McAuliffe, have shortchanged the state’s five historically black colleges and universities.
“I’ve been talking with the presidents of all of those universities,” Wilder, 90, told the Washington Examiner from his home in Richmond. “They’re not happy with what’s going on. And many of them are limited in terms of expressing themselves because they don’t want to be punished.”
The HBCU issue is personal for Wilder, a grandson of slaves who was born during the Great Depression and worked his way through Virginia Union University, where he earned a degree in chemistry in 1951. Now, Virginia Union and its four sister schools are in disrepair, with many lacking the resources to attract students and start new programs, he said.
“And yet without historical black colleges and universities, many of us would never have had an education, and you’re talking to one of them now,” he said.
Black Virginians care “that they have an opportunity to participate in the fullness of American life,” said Wilder, who went on to receive a law degree from Howard University Law School.
He said that political candidates who commit to funding these schools “will strike a chord.”
McAuliffe is locked in a tight race against Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Youngkin has said funding HBCUs is a top focus of his agenda, pledging this summer that “[a]s Governor, every budget I sign will include direct funding for all five Historically Black Colleges and Universities.”
Wilder said voters notice.
“When Glenn Youngkin says that it’s a high priority, there are people who won’t forget it.”
While higher education is a critical issue in the race, so is K-12 schooling. Parents balked when McAuliffe said last month that he did not think parents should be weighing into the classroom.
McAuliffe’s words could hurt him with black voters, Wilder said.
“When the [prospective next] governor of Virginia says, ‘I am not going to allow parents to tell schools what to teach,’ You say, ‘My God,’” Wilder told the Washington Examiner. “Parents vote to have something to say about the education of their children.”
Wilder did not offer an endorsement, but he made it clear that he is not pleased with the Old Dominion party he once led. And he is not surprised that McAuliffe is struggling to nail down the support of the Democratic Party’s most reliable constituency.
Virginians “are independent-thinking people,” he said. “And you see what the polls are showing as it relates to independents: Youngkin is leading with independents as they crossover.”
Indeed, polls show McAuliffe’s support with independent voters collapsing in a neck-and-neck race Democrats expected to win handily.
Asked why black Americans may be reluctant to support McAuliffe, Wilder responded, “The better question would be: ‘What reasons do they have to turn out?’
“No Virginian running for statewide office is going to be elected without strong black support,” he said. “And what has anybody done in Virginia to merit that?”
Hoping to stir up enthusiasm, especially among black voters, Democrats have surged prominent figures to the state.
Former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams held a “Souls to the Polls” event with McAuliffe, a voter registration drive typically associated with black churchgoers. On Thursday, the country’s first black vice president, Kamala Harris, stumped for McAuliffe, while former President Barack Obama will hit the campaign trail over the weekend.
But Wilder said the most crucial need was to appeal to voters on the issues, not with personalities.
”Surrogates are not going to determine the outcome of this election. People will,” he said. “Knock on somebody’s door and tell them Stacey Abrams said they should vote, or the former mayor of Atlanta — Keisha Lance Bottoms. They’re going to say, ‘Who?’ Do they know Virginia? Do they know the status of our schools?”
Wilder also criticized the nomination process, likening the practice that put McAuliffe, who served from 2014 to 2018, at the top of the ticket to the “Byrd Machine” of decades old.
“Something is happening in Virginia that has never happened other than in one instance, with Mills Godwin when he ran as a Republican when he came back from having run as a Democrat,” Wilder said, referencing the 60th and 62nd governor of Virginia who ran two non-consecutive terms. “Is this situation creating a dynasty like the old Byrd Machine?”
The political machine led by former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd is not a flattering comparison. He also said McAuliffe knocked diverse hopefuls from the race to again take his place atop the gubernatorial ticket.
“Who did McAuliffe run against? All of the people he ran against were black Virginians,” he said.