Speakers Promote Children's Issues in Va. Governor's Race

September 22, 2005
Suzanne Clark Johnson

As Virginia's gubernatorial race heads into its final months, children's advocates are pressuring candidates, voters, and the press to look beyond taxes and roads — the two dominant issues of the campaign so far — and to generate more discussion of children's issues, according to Suzanne Clark Johnson, president of the Virginia nonprofit organization Voices for Virginia's Children. Johnson and Tom LaPointe, a coordinator for the national nonprofit organization Every Child Matters, spoke about the election and its possible impact on Virginia's children at a Sept. 19 lecture sponsored by the Children's Legal Group, a new pro bono group at the Law School.

Voices for Virginia's Children focuses its advocacy on four types of children's issues: early care and education, foster care and adoption, children's health (including mental health), and family economic issues. "While we certainly respect and honor the role of parents, we also believe that government has an important role to play in protecting children and in providing services to children," Johnson said.

Tom LaPointe

The election may have a significant impact on Virginia's children because the candidates have different priorities on children's issues, Johnson said.

So far in the campaign, Democrat Tim Kaine's major proposal for children has been a program of optional universal preschool for four-year-olds, while Republican Jerry Kilgore has focused more on domestic violence and anti-gang programs, Johnson said. The race's Independent candidate, Russell Potts, has not proposed any programs specifically targeted toward children's issues, she said.

LaPointe, a former Maine legislator, said that all politicians love to have their picture taken with children but most "need more backbone" when it comes to supporting children's issues. "What it comes down to, more often than not, is who's for kids and who's just kidding" he said.

Noting that children's issues are "largely missing in what's being talked about in the newspapers," Johnson said that children's advocates need to challenge the consensus among politicians and the media that this year's election is all about taxes and transportation. "We can build all the roads in the world, but unless we take care of our kids, this commonwealth will not be great," Johnson said.

Johnson said that her organization is not allowed to endorse particular candidates because of its nonprofit tax status. Instead, the group works to heighten awareness and discussion of children's issues among candidates while avoiding an affiliation with a particular political party or ideology.

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