Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli vowed Tuesday to boost workforce training for the jobless to help drive down unemployment rates in areas of the state where it stubbornly remains high.
Cuccinelli visited a pair of Southside businesses to announce a workforce development plan as Democrats throughout Virginia headed to the polls to pick nominees for lieutenant governor and attorney general to round out the party's ticket. While there, Cuccinelli also reminded voters that his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, has not agreed to a debate in that region.
McAuliffe has promised to appear in five debates, the traditional number for Virginia's gubernatorial candidates, but Cuccinelli is pushing him to do at least 15.
"I hope my opponent will take us up on that," Cuccinelli told a Danville crowd.
Cuccinelli has often played up his experience as the state's attorney general -- compared to McAuliffe, who has never held political office. And in Danville Tuesday, the Republican pointed to his engineering degree as he pushed for greater focus on science and technology in the classroom.
Cuccinelli's proposal would also "reallocate existing underperforming program resources" to help unemployed and underemployed men and women in counties with unemployment rates higher than 7 percent earn certification in so-called STEM programs -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics. He did not identify which programs would be losing state funding.
"In order to secure Virginia's long-term economic future, it will be imperative for our next governor to make significant improvements in workforce training," Cuccinelli said.
McAuliffe has also focused much of his campaign on workforce development, visiting nearly every community college in the state with a promise to bolster funding for students earning two-year degrees. Cuccinelli on Tuesday also emphasized the role of community colleges.
Despite agreement between Cuccinelli and McAuliffe on the need to better prepare the state's workforce for new jobs, the issue sparked a heated exchange between the campaigns. Cuccinelli accused McAuliffe of being short on policy specifics, while McAuliffe's team shot back that Cuccinelli was playing "catch-up" on the issue.
"This is an issue that [Cuccinelli] has largely been silent on as Terry McAuliffe has made it a primary focus of his campaign for the last six months," McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said, pointing to a series of job-related policy initiatives the campaign has published.
McAuliffe's own workforce development proposal focuses on investing in two-year colleges and giving those institutions more flexibility and incentives to partner with high schools and the private sector. Like Cuccinelli -- and Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell -- McAuliffe would also put greater emphasis on tech-centric curriculum for K-12 students.
"If we don't focus on workforce training with the same kind of energy we put on other areas," Cuccinelli said, "future generations are going to fall behind."