Perriello talks wages, free college at William and Mary town hall

It's college tour season, and a gubernatorial candidate is getting in on the action.

Tom Perriello courted Virginia's student vote this week, ending his five-day campus tour at the College of William and Mary Friday.

More than 50 students and community members filled the seats in a second-floor room in the college's student center. Most had notebooks out, prepped to quiz Perriello about everything from his $15 minimum wage proposal to infrastructure spending to uniting a divided commonwealth and wooing the rural working-class vote.

With the June 13 primary looming, Perriello is in a close race with Lt. Governor Ralph Northam for the democratic nomination.

"Right now, what most people care about much more than their party affiliation is their family," Perriello said. "And we're standing for an agenda we believe can make their family safer, give them a better chance to get an education and a job."

The crowd applauded when he spoke of plans to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour and again after his vow to fight gerrymandering — the partisan drawing of election boundaries.

Perriello represented Virginia's 5th district in Congress from 2009 to 2011. He was put on the defensive when two attendees asked about his 2009 vote in favor of an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that did not pass, but would have taken away public subsidies from insurance plans covering abortion.

"It was a bad vote, I shouldn't have done it," Perriello said. "I won't just continue to veto attacks on women's rights that we see from the legislature, but we want to proactively work to ensure affordability and access."

Twenty-year-old Jewel White attends Thomas Nelson Community College and plans to transfer to a four-year university in the fall. She liked hearing about Perriello's free community college plan because although it wouldn't affect her, she has younger siblings on the same path.

But she wasn't as convinced during his rebuttal to questions about the ACA amendment vote.

"I almost got a little skeptical because when that woman was asking him about the vote, he seemed to flip-flop," White said.

Ruth Villarreal didn't expect to be dragged to a campaign event when she planned a visit from Stafford to visit her son Nico, a sophomore at the college.

She had also never heard of Perriello.

"I thought he was very impressive," Villarreal said. "His views on economic equality, his overall understanding of Virginia, it's refreshing."

Nico Villarreal knew he was anti-Northam, but wasn't as sure about Perriello before Friday's town hall. He's more convinced now.

"It's important to be active in local politics," Nico Villarreal said. "The governor's race, especially the primary, will have big implications going forward."

Perriello budgeted an hour for each of his 17 campus meetings.

After getting a late start Friday because of traffic en route from Norfolk to Williamsburg — state-wide transportation was on his list of things to be addressed — he jogged out the door when a campaign staffer said time was up.

He had another event in Northern Virginia that night, but paused long enough to sign a supporter's notebook on the way out.

Williams can be reached by phone at 757-345-2341.

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