Perriello is running against Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam for the Democratic nomination in an effort to succeed Terry McAuliffe as Virginia governor. The primary election is June 13.
Perriello stopped in Gate City Friday afternoon as part of a two-day swing through Southwest Virginia. He started Friday morning in Lee County at the opioid addiction center, where he took a tour and held a roundtable discussion.
Opioids were not the main topic of discussion in Gate City, but the issue did come up.
“We’ve got a lot of problems,” Scott County Sheriff John Puckett said. “I did a study for the first seven years I was sheriff, and 77 percent of all of our arrests were prescription pills.”
Puckett went on to say Suboxone and Subutex are becoming very big problems in the county. He said those drugs, purportedly designed to get people off of opioids, are more addicting than OxyContin.
Perriello said he wanted to help shed a light on the opioid crisis in the commonwealth.
“Three Virginians are dying every day,” he told the group. “It’s costing us enormous amounts of money that could be spent on schools and spent on science and technology opportunities and the rest. … We’re shining that light because people are suffering and people are dying. We don’t want this region to be defined by that and to be seen, in some ways, as a charity case and not an opportunity.”
Another topic that came up toward the end of the discussion was Medicaid expansion.
He told the group it was frustrating for him to see the Virginia legislature reject an expansion of Medicaid earlier this week. He said if he became governor, he would first have to see what the legislature looks like before he could definitively say if Medicaid could be expanded in the state.
But he does think there might be hope.
“I do think the politics around health care and Medicaid expansion are changing, in part because some red states have looked into this and people can see the results,” he said. “And frankly, because what President Trump and Paul Ryan were about to do was throw their Republican colleagues in Richmond under the bus.”
Perriello floated the idea of trying to make debt-free two-year community colleges, career and training programs or trade schools, a program neighboring Tennessee instituted in 2015. He said getting a program like that off the ground would be of high priority if he wins the governorship.
He said he wanted to see people move into professions that would be part of the solution to some of the issues brought up during the roundtable discussion. He said a debt-free program would repay taxpayers by helping pull people out of poverty, which runs in the double digits in Southwest Virginia.
Members of the group spoke about the importance of finding a balance between coal and renewable energy. They detailed some of the things taking place around the county in regard to clean energy and the best way to approach this new energy source.
Perriello said when he was a congressman, he worked with the private sector on how to be a part of the clean energy future. He described some of the work he did during that time and said a solution for revitalizing jobs in the area would need to come from many different areas.
“There’s no silver bullet here,” he said. “The best ideas come locally and grow out.”