While the two major parties have essentially decided on their nominees for governor of Virginia this year – Terry McAuliffe is the presumptive Democratic nominee and Ken Cuccinelli will be the Republican nominee, barring unforeseen events – there is also one declared independent in the race.
Warren County businessman Tareq Salahi originally entered the campaign for the Republican nomination but later announced he would be running in the general election for governor as an “independent Republican.”
Even though Salahi has served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia Wine Board, the Virginia Wine Tourism Office, and the Virginia Tourism Office, he is best known as one of the “White House gatecrashers” who attended a state dinner without an invitation in 2009 -- an experience he does not omit in recounting his past.
Salahi sat for an interview with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner in his home near Front Royal and answered questions on a wide range of issues, including transportation, legislative redistricting, and attracting new businesses to Virginia.
He said he supports repealing the 2006 Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution, which prohibits same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Government, he said, does not “belong in the bedroom. Love is love, a relationship is a relationship. There's just no room and no reason for the U.S. or state government to be involved. That [amendment] needs to be repealed. I'm just pro-same-sex marriage. I'm pro-gay rights.”
Salahi emphasized his point by adding, “My views on this are very clear. We haven't made that very loud yet. I'm sure that's going to be coming. I'm pro-same-sex marriage. Yeah, we need to move forward on this in Virginia”
He asserted that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage hurts the state's economy.
“Virginia's a good leader in the country,” he said.
“We need to continue to be a good leader. We're a leader in many areas. We're one of the best places to do business. I don't want to see businesses not come to Virginia because we're against their [employees'] rights.”
Why, he asked, “would want to do that? Why would we want to discriminate against [them]? That's hurting jobs and that's hurting bringing more business to the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Salahi suggested that continuing Virginia's ban on gay marriage was the result of shortsightedness among policymakers.
“People don't see the bigger picture sometimes,” he said. “They can have a very narrow mind because of the way they were taught or what they were told was the only way to be. But again,” he concluded, “government doesn't belong in the bedroom and I don't want to see it in there in any form.”
On the question of legalizing marijuana, which led to national headlines when Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli entertained it, Salahi said he is “open to the idea” but that his campaign team would want to study it by polling Virginia voters “o see what Virginians want.”
If he finds out that “Virginians want it and if it's good for Virginia,” he explained, and if legalizing marijuana “can make money for Virginia and become a profit tool for Virginia,” he will favor it.
Salahi pointed out that in Colorado and Washington state, where personal use of marijuana was legalized by voter initiative last year, “they're talking about not just a few million, they're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for their states.”
Therefore, he concluded, if “it's good for Virginia and Virginians want it and it brings more jobs and it brings more economic impact to the Commonwealth, then I'm not opposed to it.”
Salahi was unequivocal when asked a related question about ending the prohibition on producing industrial hemp on Virginia's farms.
“Yeah, no question,” he said. “There's no reason why we shouldn't” legalize the growing of hemp for industrial purposes.
“If it's positive, if it's good, if it's handled properly and done correctly, then yes,” he said, apologizing for "a long answer for that question.”