Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder says he is “leading the charge” and setting the agenda in the state’s governor race to “#OpenOurSchools” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
During an exclusive interview with Fox News, Snyder laid out his plan to get teachers and students back to the classroom, while criticizing current Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam for “providing no leadership to this issue.”
“We’re nearly a year into this pandemic and most states—like Virginia—have a constitutional responsibility to actually educate our kids—and our schools are still closed,” Snyder told Fox News. “It is a true travesty.”
Snyder said the situation has been “an unmitigated disaster and that’s why we’re leading the charge on this and setting the agenda in the governor’s race and across the nation.”
Snyder went on to criticize teachers unions, saying they “are holding parents, students and teachers hostage.”
“Teachers unions are one of the most powerful special interests in the Democratic coalition and in the country,” he said, adding that Northam is “kowtowing to every liberal special interest out there,” while Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls in the state are not even addressing the issue of schools reopening.
“You have absolute silence from leading Democrats running for governor in Virginia, and a reversal from the Biden-Harris administration, watering down their remarks and trying to kick the can down the road,” Snyder said, pointing to the White House’s comments that schools could be open for one day a week within the first 100 days of the Biden presidency.
“That doesn’t count and that is even more of an inconvenience to our parents, and our kids are suffering because of it,” he said.
But Snyder says he has a plan.
“If I were governor of Virginia when the vaccine first came out, I would have had teachers right along first responders—first in line for this vaccine,” he said. “I would have put teachers at the front of the line so that they are taken care of and treated with respect.”
The White House, in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said teacher vaccinations should be a “priority,” but that they are not a prerequisite for schools to reopen.
Snyder also said he would leverage resources of the state government, private sector and nonprofit sector to “help bridge the gap if certain districts did not have enough money for PPE.”
“We would have fixed that long ago,” he said. “I have been in the private sector all my life—this is a planning and logistics issue, and it is not like this has crept up on us.”
Snyder said that he believes there are “systemic problems” in government, noting that “the real systemic problem in Richmond is systemic incompetence.”
“These are things that could have been planned for 300 days ago, but our leaders fell down on the job,” he said. “We will fix that one day one.”
Snyder said “the first hire I make as governor,” should he be elected in November, would be a “chief openings office to oversee this logistics issue, to make sure all districts have guidance.”
“This would happen on the first day I am governor-elect in November—that’s how serious I am about this problem,” he said, adding that the state would have school “five days a week every week with a teacher in each classroom.”
Snyder touted teachers, saying the “majority of teachers want to get back to the classroom,” and said that they are in the profession because “they love teaching children and the next generation.”
“We need to treat teachers with the respect that they deserve,” he said. “This governor has not done that.”
He added: “My plan is simple, and it is a common-sense-driven plan that I will provide as governor of Virginia.”
Snyder said that his campaign has put half a million dollars of television ads across the state, and in digital, as well as ads in mailboxes of Virginians to advertise the “#OpenOurSchools” movement. Snyder also said his campaign is gathering signatures to recall “obstructionist school board members” across the state.
“The fight isn’t in May,” Snyder said, referring to the GOP nominating contest. “It’s not in November.”
“The fight is now,” he continued. “And if I’m applying to be the leader of Virginia, we need to lead now.”
Snyder, 48, an entrepreneur and former Fox News contributor, launched his gubernatorial campaign last month.
Snyder joined a crowded GOP primary field—which includes, at this point, Sergio de la Peña, a retired Army officer; Glenn Youngkin, who retired as co-CEO last year from the investment firm the Carlyle Group; conservative state Sen. Amanda Chase, and state Del. Kirk Cox, who was the speaker of the Virginia House when Republicans last controlled the chamber.
Northam cannot seek reelection because Virginia governors cannot serve consecutive terms.
Seeking the Democratic nomination are: former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who was in office from 2014 to 2018; Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; state Sen. Jennifer McClellan; state Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy; and state Del. Lee Carter.
Princess Blanding, the sister of a Black man who was killed by Richmond police in 2018, also recently launched a third-party bid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.