June 7, 2017 at 1:26 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Perriello: Va. gubernatorial race referendum on Trump

Tom Perriello, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello (Photo by the New America Foundation; courtesy Flickr)

Former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello on Wednesday said the state’s 2017 gubernatorial race is a referendum on President Trump and his administration’s policies.

Perriello told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that Trump’s election was “the rise of something much scarier” than Republicans gaining control of the White House and maintaining their majorities in Congress. Perriello added Virginia is the “first big move” to rebuke the president.

“Trump and his allies have figured out progressives know how to march and resist,” Perriello told the Blade. “This is the first serious statewide test.”

Perriello spoke with the Blade six days before he and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam will face off in the Democratic primary on June 13. Former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie, state Sen. Frank Wagner (R-Virginia Beach) and Corey Stewart are the Republicans who are vying to succeed Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Perriello, 42, was born and raised in Charlottesville.

He was a special advisor to the Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone that prosecuted former Liberian President Charles Taylor for war crimes he committed during the West African country’s civil war from 1991-2002. Perriello later worked for the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Century Foundation and the National Council of Churches of Christ.

Perriello represented Virginia’s 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2009-2011.

He became president of the Center for American Progress, a liberal D.C. think tank, in 2011.

Then-President Obama in July 2015 appointed Perriello as the Special U.S. Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He was in the position when Congolese President Joseph Kabila agreed to step down by the end of 2017 as part of an agreement he reached with opposition parties in the Central African country.

“This transition should turn the page on decades of fighting that has resulted in the deaths of more than five million civilians in the Congo,” says Perriello’s campaign website.

Perriello vows to veto ‘hateful legislation’

Immigrant rights and criminal justice reform are among the issues that Perriello’s campaign highlights.

Perriello noted to the Blade he voted for the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009 that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crimes law and the bill that repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Perriello in a GayRVA op-ed said Trump “took us backwards” earlier this year when he rescinded the Obama administration’s guidance on how public schools should accommodate transgender students. He also praised Gavin Grimm, a trans student at Gloucester County High School who filed a federal lawsuit against his school district’s bathroom policy.

“He has displayed leadership and sacrifice that too many fail to show over a lifetime,” wrote Perriello in the GayRVA op-ed. “Because of his courage to tell his story and stand up against injustice, he is now leading a movement of people from all across the country who believe ours is an inclusive nation. I am proud to be one of them, and I am proud to #StandwithGavin.”

Perriello told the Blade he would veto “hateful legislation” that seeks to limit bathroom access. He also praised Equality Virginia, even though their political action committee endorsed Northam last month.

“They deserve a lot of credit,” he said.

Khan family, Sanders among Perriello supporters

U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have both endorsed Perriello. McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring — who announced in 2014 he would no longer defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman — and U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are among those who have endorsed Northam.

A bomb killed Capt. Humayun Khan in Iraq in 2004.

Trump criticized Khan’s father, Khizr Khan, who lives in Charlottesville with his wife, Ghazala Khan, last July after he criticized his rhetoric towards Muslims and immigrants in a speech that he gave at the Democratic National Convention. The Khans endorsed Perriello in April.

“Resisting President Trump and defeating the hate and bigotry that he sows will take people of conviction and good conscience standing up and fighting back,” said the Khans in a statement to the Washington Post. “Tom Perriello is one of those people.”

Perriello dismisses Northam criticism, describes him as ‘good man’

Northam suggested to the Blade earlier this week during a telephone interview that Perriello neither fully understands the issues or has the relationships in order to effectively govern Virginia.

“I’ve been in Virginia for the last 10 years,” said Northam. “I’ve been in a lot of fights, rallies, a lot of protests. I don’t remember seeing him at those. I’m all about Virginia. I have the relationships.”

Perriello described Northam as “a very good man,” but dismissed his criticism.

“As a sitting lieutenant governor he has a tougher ability to go with that message,” Perriello told the Blade.

“My track record of results is quite a bit stronger and I think that argument hasn’t been landing very well,” he added, noting Virginia’s minimum wage remains lower than that of neighboring West Virginia. “It’s a misunderstanding, or we should say a difference in understanding.”

Campaign in ‘sprint mode’ ahead of primary

Perriello told the Blade his campaign is in “sprint mode” ahead of next week’s primary.

He said he plans to campaign across the state for 24 hours in the coming days. Perriello told the Blade the election is an opportunity for voters “to take ownership over who the nominee” to succeed McAuliffe is.

“People are looking for someone to come in with a vision of where we need to go,” he said.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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