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Meet the Candidates for Governor: Democrat Ralph Northam

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Ralph Northam is one of two Democrats running for governor in Virginia. He’s running against former Congressman Tom Perriello. Northam, who’s currently the lieutenant governor, is a pediatrician, veteran, and former state lawmaker. He’s hoping Virginian Democrats will recognize his experience in state politics as a valuable tool for governing.

Mallory Noe-Payne recently spoke with Northam about what he hopes to bring to Richmond.

Interview highlights (emphasis ours)

How he got into politics:

“I grew up over on Virginia’s eastern shore. The Chesapeake Bay was literally my back yard. So I had watched the demise of the bay over my 50+ years, and I wanted to clean up and improve the health of the bay for our children and grandchildren.

So I made a decision in 2006 to throw my hat in the ring. I had no previous political experience, and I ran for the state senate in the 6th District, which is the Eastern Shore, about half of Norfolk, a little bit of Virginia Beach and Mathews County. We were successful in that campaign, and the rest is history.”

On gun safety:

“I would work for responsible gun ownership – and what that means is that we need to sit people down at the table and talk about the near 1,000 deaths per year in Virginia. The fact that we have listened to people across Virginia – they support universal background checks. They support things like smart gun technology, meaning that only one person’s fingerprint will discharge that weapon. These are all important things, and so it will take somebody who will sit down and listen to people’s ideas – and at the end of the day, take on the challenge.”

On the pipeline projects slated to run through Virginia:

“We want to let science and transparency dictate what’s going to happen with the pipeline. We want to make it as environmentally responsible as we can. We want to use science, we want to use transparency – at the end of the day, we will do everything we can in Virginia to make that happen. And that decision will be made by FERC, which is a federal regulatory process. If they, after a thorough evaluation of the permitting process, think it’s safe to move forward, then I would support the pipeline.”

On the economic lull in Southwest, Southside, and Eastern Shore, Virginia:

“Our unemployment rate since we’ve been in office has gone from 5.4% to 3.8% - it’s the lowest that it’s been in Virginia in the last 9 years and the second lowest in the south of this country. If you look at areas like the Eastern Shore – which is where I’m from – the Southside of Virginia and the Southwest, they’re nowhere close to 3.8%. So how do we bring all of Virginia up?

Knowing where the jobs are is number 1. Number 2 is training the workforce for those jobs, and number 3 is making that workforce and education accessible to all Virginians. We’re going to work with the community colleges and give people the option – that if they want to be trained in a high-tech, high-demand job, and once they become certified, they give back a year of public service. And actually, my plan starts with about $37 million of investment, but in 5 years it ends up paying for itself because those people will now have higher-paying jobs and that will bring in more tax revenue.”

On voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004:

“Regarding George Bush, he and I don’t share the same values and principles. I was underinformed, I was starting my medical practice, doing hospice work back at that time in my career. Knowing what I know now, that’s not someone who I would have voted for – I think it’s actually a lesson to Virginians, we need to really pay attention and do our homework before we vote for a particular candidate.

I would also say that in my 9 years of public service I have been unwavering in what I have fought for – the progressive Democratic values, things like access to women’s reproductive healthcare, things like gun violence – advocating for responsible gun ownership, things like environmental issues, I have been outspoken. Actually, I was also the first statewide elected official to speak out against offshore drilling.

And finally what I would say about that vote is, I was asked by a journalist – nobody was in that voting booth with me. I could have danced around that question or could have not told the truth, but my honor is very important to me so I did tell the truth. I think Virginians need leaders that will look them in the eye and be truthful to them.”

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

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.
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