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Northam: We are leaving this Commonwealth better than it was

Northam 2022 SOC
MIchael Pope
Governor Ralph Northam delivers his final State of the Commonwealth address

In an address that lasted an hour, Ralph Northam rattled off a long list of accomplishments from the past four years: expanded access to Medicaid, a state budget flush with cash, criminal justice and marijuana reforms, and an expanded focus on equity and inclusion.

"We are leaving this Commonwealth better than it was when we came into office," Northam told the General Assembly. "We have built a state that does a better job of treating people right. It’s more welcoming, more open, more fair and equitable."

Northam praised state workers and members of his cabinet. And he thanked the public health and medical professionals who have exhausted themselves over the past two years fighting COVID-19.

Northam counted expanded access to voting among the accomplishments. In a pointed moment directed at Republicans, he said a 20% increase in voter participation in November’s election is proof the current rules work. "And it’s really important for voters to hear that message—especially from those of you elected to office under these rules. It does tremendous damage when elected officials use false claims to undermine faith in our elections. Voters deserve better, and our elected officials need to do better, and not perpetuate anyone’s big lie."

Northam told lawmakers they can't pick and choose history based on how it makes them feel, adding that Black children have a right to have their history too. That was too much for Republican House Speaker Todd Gilbert, who tweeted the governor was condescendingly lecturing lawmakers because he read the book "Roots" and then went on a reconciliation tour. "He is cheered by those who called for his resignation, repeatedly called for his resignation," Gilbert later said in an interview. "So I've grown weary of being lectured on matters of race by Ralph Northam."

Senator Adam Ebbin is a Democrat from Alexandria who says the new Speaker is not setting a good tone on the day members of the House unanimously elected him speaker. "I think it's sad that he demeans his office on his first day by engaging in such uncivil dialogue, and it just seems like a really spoiled and petulant attitude to be so resentful of someone who has worked hard to bring Virginia together."

Gilbert: I've grown weary of being lectured
Michael Pope reports

Northam said his goal as governor was always to make lives better. "Let’s ask ourselves—are we going to keep up this progress? Or will we retreat, become people who are more worried about ourselves than each other? I hope we will not."

Virginia’s 74th governor, Glenn Younkin, will be inaugurated on Saturday.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

David Seidel is proud to lead the journalists at Radio IQ and WVTF as news director. David joined the newsroom in May 2017 and brings more than 20 years of experience in broadcast journalism in Virginia. Prior to joining Radio IQ David was an assistant news director, assignment manager and producer at WDBJ Television in Roanoke. He also worked as a reporter for WHSV Television in Harrisonburg. David graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington with degrees in journalism and history.
Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.