In his annual State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night, Governor Ralph Northam outlined a plan to tackle some of Virginia’s most pressing issues.
One by one, the Governor went through them: A global pandemic, an economic crisis, racial injustice and last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Nevertheless, Northam stayed optimistic. "Because while we have just come through a tough year that brought everyone pain and sacrifice, I’ve seen something remarkable. I have seen you taking care of one another," Northam said.
He’s hoping the state will soon see more: More coronavirus vaccines, more aid for small businesses and more pay for educators by turning a teacher bonus into a teacher raise. "Tonight I have good news: revenues look good, and we’re going to have more money than we thought," Northam predicted.
That wasn’t the only time revenue came up. Describing it as a ‘cash crop,’ Northam said legalizing and taxing marijuana could bring new money to the Old Dominion and end some of the racial inequities in law enforcement. "We’ve done the research and we can do this the right way, leading with social equity, public health and public safety."
It was one of several changes to the criminal justice system Northam says he wants to see. As the address wound down, the Virginia governor also called for an end the death penalty.
Republicans say the governor's priorities for the General Assembly session don't align with concerns they're hearing from constituents.
Governor Northam outlined things like legalizing marijuana and passing a constitutional amendment to restore rights to people convicted of felonies. But Republican Delegate Amanda Batten says she hasn't heard about those issues in her district. "I'm in the Historic Triangle area, so we've lost a lot of revenue in our area due to Busch Gardens being closed, and as a result our small businesses are really suffering. So when folks are struggling to get by on a day to day basis because they're out of work or their kids aren't in school, that's not their priority."
Northam spent a considerable amount of his speech dedicated to making the case that Virginia end the death penalty. Republican Senator Ryan McDougle of Hanover County says that would be a mistake. "I remember when I was prosecuting, there was an individual who went into an office to commit a robbery and ended up killing a cleaning lady with a hammer. It was a crime so heinous, so vile that person deserved the death penalty, and it should be an option."
One suggestion from the governor some Republicans say they can get behind — removing the statue of former Senator Harry Byrd from Capitol Square. Republicans are quick to point out that the man who led massive resistance was a Democrat. So they won't stand in the way of any effort to remove that statue.