RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s two senatorial candidates face off in their second debate Saturday, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner and his Republican challenger Daniel Gade have previously addressed the topics they will be discussing – racial inequality and injustice.
This weekend’s debate is hosted by Norfolk State University, a historically Black university, with a focus on racial disparities and inequities in education and health care; the criminal justice system; and economic mobility. It will be the first U.S. senatorial debate the university has hosted in its 85-year history.
Warner challenged his eventual opponent to three debates ahead of the June primary, calling for one to be specifically centered on issues of racial equality and justice at one of Virginia’s HBCUs. The senator’s challenge came amid protests over racism and police brutality in the commonwealth and across the nation.
“I think our country still deals with systemic racism. I think we have to acknowledge that Black lives matter and I particularly felt it was important to have one of these debates at a historically black college,” Warner said in an interview with 8News ahead of the debate. “I used to serve on the board of one of Virginia’s historically black colleges, Virginia Union. They are great schools. They produce great talent. And what I hope we can have a discussion, with Mr. Gade on Saturday night, is how do we make sure there’s more equality of opportunity in this country.”
The two-term senator spoke about past failures in business before he ran for public office, questioning whether his race helped him bounce back.
“My history as a business person, I failed my first two times. The third time I was fortunate enough to get into the cell phone business and did better than I could have ever expected. But I’m not sure I would have three chances or two chances or even one chance, if I hadn’t been a white man with the appropriate education,” Sen. Warner admitted.
Gade, a professor at American University and a retired Army lieutenant colonel who had his leg amputated after being wounded in Iraq, shared how his military service was influenced by his views on injustice.
“I enlisted in the U.S. Army when I was 17, at least in part, because I am someone who views injustice and I hate it. I hate injustice,” Gade said this week. “And when I see injustice, when I see the weak being stepped on by the strong, that offends me. It offends me at a deep and personal level.”
The Army veteran raised concerns over how Black defendants are prosecuted differently in the criminal justice system, and the African American incarceration rate in the U.S.
“There a couple things that I think are horrifying. So for example, I think the fact that Black men convicted of the same crimes as white men are much more likely to get the death penalty,” Gade continued. “We have more Black men incarcerated in U.S. prisons right now than we had enslaved at the height of slavery in 1864. That’s terrifying because it means those people are being denied to thrive.”