Behaving Like a Commonwealth

by Kerry Dougherty

Gov. Ralph Northam’s press conferences are weird, unsettling events. They’re free of the fireworks and drama that are a regular feature of the president’s wild pressers. But there’s a sense of quiet despair and dictatorial impulses about them.

Northam is frequently befuddled on these occasions, as he was last week when he was asked why Virginia’s nursing home deaths had tripled overnight. He had no idea. And as he was weeks ago when a reporter asked about his plans to help the homeless during the health crisis. Again, not a clue.

At other times, Northam displays flashes of irrational stubbornness.

On Monday, for instance, Northam was asked if he would consider reopening Virginia by regions. After all, there are four localities with no infections at all and more with very few positive tests or hospitalizations.

Northam’s answer ? No.

Northam responded as he has several times before, insisting that Virginia is a commonwealth and we’re going to behave like a commonwealth.


I dug out my battered Webster’s to check the definition of “commonwealth.” In the simplest sense, it means ”a group of people united by common interests” or “a political community founded for the public good.”

Nothing about commonwealth having uniform rules across every inch of the territory.

Come to think of it, wouldn’t it serve the common good – the common wealth – for at least part of Virginia to be back in business and generating revenue to send to Richmond?

Yes, I know, the U.S. has four commonwealths: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Kentucky. When these states were formed they were designated as commonwealths in their constitutions, but in reality they are no different from any of the other 46 states.

Again, this time from Merriam-Webster: “The distinction is in name alone. The commonwealths are just like any other state in their politics and laws, and there is no difference in their relationship to the nation as a whole. When used to refer to U.S. states, there is no difference between a ‘state’ and a ‘commonwealth’.”

Which raises the question, why is Northam so hung up on the “c” word?

I called a local historian to ask if I was missing something about commonwealths that would require citizens to be treated with rigid uniformity. He said no. “Commonwealth was a term that started to be used more often in the 16th and 17th centuries in England. It just meant a government for the common good or common wealth. It became more closely identified with a republic as time went on… But that has nothing to do with complete uniformity of laws across the commonwealth.”

More than you wanted to know. Definitely more than Ralph Northam knows.

In other words, there’s nothing in Virginia’s commonwealthiness to prevent the governor from opening the rural parts of the state – you know, where crops are grown and coal is mined – while keeping closed parts of Virginia where the infection rate is high and the inhabitants live in high-rise ant colonies and ride public transit.

In a pointed editorial, Why Must Southwest Virginia Wait On The Rest of the State?” The Roanoke Times on Tuesday pointed out that only two members of the governor’s COVID-19 Business Task Force come from west of the Blue Ridge.

Too much of the pandemic has become unnecessarily politicized — and polarized. Yes, Republicans have been the loudest voices pushing for the economy to reopen and yes, most of Southwest Virginia votes Republican. However, we can’t help but point out that some other Democratic governors — from Andrew Cuomo in New York to Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania to Jared Polis in Colorado — have approached things on a regional basis. Northam’s decision not to in a state with such geographical differences as Virginia – and such a wide disparity in infection rates — is curious, indeed.

The paper gently mocked Northam’s silly contention that if he allowed parts of Virginia to open, people from other corners of the Old Dominion would rush in, bringing disease with them.

If every business in those zero-infection localities reopened today, would we really see a caravan of people from Northern Virginia driving down to a barbershop in Bland County or to a diner in Dickenson County?  wondered the Roanoke Times.

No, we wouldn’t. Northern Virginians don’t even like Southerners.

The Times noted that using Northam’s logic, the entire U.S. should remain locked down until New York’s coronavirus outbreak ends. After all, what’s to stop people from the Bronx from getting in their cars and driving to the pristine mountains of Virginia, bringing their New York pathogens with them?

Northam seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding about what being part of a commonwealth means. Will someone please toss a dictionary to him at his next presser?

This column was published originally at

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27 responses to “Behaving Like a Commonwealth

  1. Folks voted for this guy and his platform of gun control which doesn’t work. So now we’re all having to suffer for this. Someone who can’t make decisions that even I know are going to have to made by economics.

  2. Crops aren’t being grown? Coal is not being mined? The only effect SARS-COV2 has had on coal mines is the effort to cut Black Lung payments by the mine owners. That’s Uncommon Wealth.

    You really need to go to the beach and build castles in the sand instead of the air.

  3. Oh boy, oh boy, word origins. Here’s my word, “pandemic”, as in “My Trump-ignored pandemic trumps your commonwealth every time.”

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    It was George Mason who gave us the phrase “Sic Semper Tyrannis”. George Wythe designed the seal logo with Tyrannus prostrate and defeated. Mighty Virtus stands victorious with a spear and sheathed sword. George Wythe reminds me of Yoda. Wythe taught Jefferson, Monroe, Clay, and Marshall. He must have been a great mentor.

  5. I’m fairly new to this, but can’t help but wonder -has Nancy_Naive ever made any constructive posts to this blog or is she just a heckler? No legitimate questions, no points being made, just snarky comebacks.

    • In THIS BLOG? “Constructive” is the criteria?

      Hells Bells… sometimes it seems like every other post here is some anti-govt, anti-science conspiracy blather.

      NN is a refreshing break for the other drone…


      • So opinions are just “blather” if they don’t match yours? Only pro-government and pro-science opinions count and you always agree with them because “it’s the government” or “it’s the science”, right?. I guess subscribing to that line of thinking eliminates the need for any constructive debate. Let’s just all shut up and listen to what the scientists and government tell us to do, especially since all levels of government and all scientists are in agreement regarding this mess.

        • Well, we all have opinions and it’s not that hard to recognize anti-govt, anti-science blather…. we got a crap load of it these days.

          Constructive debate that says science is just opinion is not constructive in my view. It’s off into the wild blue.

          We should definitely not take all scientific thought per se. It does need to be questioned. But when consensus of science is portrayed as “conspiracy” , yet…and bloggers with little or no education in science become who we “believe”, then yes, we’re over the Rubicon.

          Ditto with govt. It’s good, bad and ugly… but it’s not a massive conspiracy of leftists and other goofy rubbish.

        • PackerFan:

          The history of Larry’s arguments on this blog is clear.

          1. Any criticism of President Obama’s policies, regardless of how well founded, was “racism”. This ended only when Obama’s second term ended.
          2. Any questioning of why tax money is endlessly and futilely spent to try to fix deep rooted societal problems is dismissed as “white privilege”. This mindless argument has been largely abandoned as it has become clear that Asian Americans have out performed white Americans economically and in educational attainment.
          3. Unspecified “science” is the new catch-all in the liberal attempt to end any argument. One is left to wonder whether it is the “science” of the 1970s that predicted an imminent new ice age or the “science” of Al Gore which claimed the world was heating and, in 2007, predicted that within 10 years the world would hit “the point of no return” and we’d be in the midst of a “true global climate emergency”. Reality doesn’t matter. If you argue with a liberal like Larry you are “anti-science”.
          4. The anti-government spew is more specialized. It’s almost entirely the province of those who spent most of their lives working for the government and live on government supplied pensions. Of course, when the government of Georgia decides to reopen while our government continues to hide under the bed we’re left to wonder how we can be “anti government” by supporting the government of Georgia. But no matter – none of these liberal excuses are intended as arguments. Just the opposite. They are intended to stifle discussion.

          Why can’t you understand that? You must be just another racist, white priveleged, anti-science, anti-government conservative.

          • geeze DJ.. are you trying to get SGillispie to put you on the “listen to” list? For Shame!

            I noticed he did leave off some others… hmmm….

            No lover of Obama nor Northam – both had their issues but geeze compared to who else?

            Hogan used to be DJ’s favorite until he started to sound just like Northam so that was a disappointment… and as you can
            see he’s not Northam LITE.

            Anti- science and anti-govt, anti-Northam are fairly standard shtick here in BR these days so calling it out is needed at times.

            But SGillispie is right. If you don’t like what someone says and it disagrees with your own beliefs, just move that scroll bar down to who you want to listen to.

            It really boils down to whether you want to hear others say the things you want to hear to confirm your own views although I would add that Dick is not your guy for that.. He does tend to be more middle of the road on most issues.. my view of course.

    • Hi Kerry.

      Just for the record, if your opinion is subject to snarky comebacks, you should rethink your position.

  6. Noticed in a local tv snewz report about a nearby locality wanting to reopen, report concluded with a “but the science is clear” mantra without expounding on this “science.” I’m sure the reporter doesn’t know either, but it sounds “smart.”

  7. At one point King Ralph claimed he wouldn’t reopen Virginia by region because he didn’t want to pick “winners and losers”. Presumably Northern Virginia would be a loser in that regard while Southwest Virginia would be a winner. I think I can safely speak for the majority of my fellow Northern Virginians by saying, “What the hell are you talking about Northam?” Nobody other than hard core Libtwits in NoVa wants diners and bars in SouthWest Virginia to remain shut down for no reason.

    Dear King Ralph:

    Feel free to reopen the state by region. We understand that our region may be the last to reopen because we have a lot of COVID19 cases.


    The losers in NoVa

    My governor is an idiot.

    • What’s King Hogan say about this? Is he also an idiot?

      Just to be realistic – whether it’s Northam or Newsom, the limits of what they can do in enforcing regional restrictions is limited.

      There is open defiance of some northern counties in California.

      But this is just another partisan wedge issue if you think about it.

      Most rural economies are lucky to have things like a Walmart and a CVS… and a few local eateries in direct and usually tough competition to Hardees and the like.

      This is more symbolic than anything… the vast, vast part of the economy in Virginia is in places like NoVa and opening up Wise County is going to contribute in the .001% range.

      this is all about the “anti” folks… who don’t give a rats behind about rural Virginia anyhow.. most of them are RPV or Trumpsters.

      The name of the game is to find and exploit the partisan wedge.

      • Crown Prince Hogan has not been coronated yet, although he is getting close. He got off to a really good start with his handling of the epidemic. Definitive, coherent and transparent. His purchase of 500,000 test kits from South Korea was creative and pretty brilliant. But lately he has gone to ground. He published a good plan for reopening only saying that it would probably happen in “early May”. That plan DID include the possibility of regional differences in the way Maryland would reopen. Good thing Maryland isn’t a commonwealth!

        Lately Crown Prince Hogan has been channeling Ralph the Mime. Not a lot of commentary as to the reopening or how the 500,000 test kits are being put to practical use.

        People are starting to get frustrated.

      • “This is more symbolic than anything… the vast, vast part of the economy in Virginia is in places like NoVa and opening up Wise County is going to contribute in the .001% range.”

        Yes, the “little people” are statistically insignificant. They can be safely ignored by King Ralph and his court of jesters in Richmond.

        Of course, if you happen to live and work in Wise County then Wise County might not seem so insignificant.

      • “this is all about the “anti” folks… who don’t give a rats behind about rural Virginia anyhow.. most of them are RPV or Trumpsters.”

        Hmmm ….

        Republicans don’t care about rural Virginia? Just out of curiosity … where do you think the Republican base is within Virginia? Arlington?

        I’d say it’s obviously Democrat Ralph Northam that doesn’t care about rural Virginia.

    • just to keep things accurate – this is also a quote:

      ” Northam said the state is not planning to open up on a regional basis. Members of the business task force created by the governor overwhelmingly supported opening up on a statewide basis, not by region, the governor said.

      “If we open some areas of the commonwealth and close others, people from the closed areas probably will travel to the open areas and not only bring new cases from hot spots, if you will, in Virginia but also potentially bring in cases from other states,” Northam said”

      so there you have it. People can and should form their own views, but they should also look at ALL the facts not just the ones they want to cherry-pick for their own “anti” views.

      Many states are having this issue. It’s not just Northams unique issue.

      Even in libwit California, some counties are defying the Govs restrictions.

      Some beaches in California are defying the Govs restrictions.

      It’s a conundrum with some partisan aspects. Conservatives typically are arguing for regional and liberals typically are opposed to that.

      But if you look at polls – most Americans are not solidly in either camp.

      Even differences in restrictions between states is problematical.

      This may well get sorted out if infection levels go up in places that have loosened restrictions.

      There are legitimate different points of view here but there are also those who have partisan motivations.

  8. Packer Fan,
    Dougherty’s piece here is a good example of well-considered opinion and exposes the increasingly obvious fact that Northam is way over his head with this problem.

    BR’s Comments section is worth opening because there are occasionally excellent additions, corrections, and clarifications to the main topic — keep your eyes open for Haner, Sizemore, Butcher, Sherlock. However, like most social media today, BR is plagued with commentators whose mission appears to be suffocating with snark and smear any reasonable writings that depart from their correct way of thinking. Actually, there is one here who seems to be motivated by driveling out anyone no matter the position. His blather “rebuttals” are often posted less than 2 minutes after the post he’s challenging which gives some idea as to how much thought went into the comment.

    Don’t make the mistake of engaging with any of them because their purpose is annoyance , disruption and seeing their name in print–not reasonable discussion.

    Scan the names and skip these people and these Comments are great.

  9. “Science is clear.” Like the UVA COVID-19 MODEL EXPLORER?
    According to their April briefing, their model was
    * calibrated on actual flu spread to refine model of spread.
    * expected to get better in time as more data becomes available.
    * The dearth of initial testing may bias all of the models.
    * Many of the parameters used in the models come from China studies that might not be s relevant.

    What could possibly go wrong when you use the flu which has some level of immunity in the population? When you know there’s not enough testing to give a good basis for calculating extent or spread, and that existing studies might not be relevant?

    So their case numbers as of yesterday by health district, with a pause through April 30th keeping news cases steady, had 9 districts with an estimate of 3,218 whose actual total was 2,187. Okay. Fewer is better–if it isn’t a reflection of lack of testing.

    And their case numbers as of yesterday for the other 26 health districts was actually 18,069, 188% more than their estimate of 9,659.

    So much for data getting better. Did the scientists and computer experts forget to tell the artificial intelligence 42% of our nursing homes (120 of 287) were below average or much below average, or did they just forget to think about that themselves?

    As the model briefing said, these were the folks advising the governor since early January.

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