Unlike the other 49 states in the Union, only Virginia has a constitution that prohibits a governor from serving two consecutive terms. That is why former Governor Terry McAuliffe tried to make a comeback last November but current Governor Ralph Northam–blessedly–must exit the Governor’s Mansion on January 15, 2022.
Early on, Northam seemed to harbor a nasty streak. In November 2013, while running for Lieutenant Governor, Northam publicly snubbed his black opponent, E.W. Jackson by pointedly refusing to shake his hand after a debate. If a white Republican refused to shake the hand of a black man, the media would have a field day till the offender’s career was toast. But for Northam, a Democrat? He got a pass from the friendly media. He won that election.
Northam, a pediatrician from the Eastern Shore, then ran for governor in 2017 against Republican Ed Gillespie. Much like Joe Biden in 2020, Northam marketed himself not as a “scary radical” but as a reasonable “uncle figure.”
However, with only about eight days to go before the election, a group allied with the Democrats unleashed what has been called one of the most despicable political ads in modern times. It showed an unidentified white male with sunglasses driving a pickup truck, complete with rebel flag, “Don’t Tread On Me” license plate, and “Gillespie” bumper sticker, cruising around a neighborhood looking for black and brown kids to run over.
Northam won that election, and was willing to fan the flames of racial division to do it.
In January 2019 Northam, with the calm tones of a doctor, explained on a radio interview how he supported a Democrat bill in the General Assembly to allow an abortion up to the very moment of birth. But taking it one step further, he claimed “The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. […] [A]nd then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” There was nationwide revulsion that a governor who is also a doctor would be supporting infanticide.
And then the bombshell. On Friday, February 1, 2019, a photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook made national news, the infamous photo of the leering guy in blackface by the person in the KKK garb.
Struggling for his political life, Northam spoke from the Governor’s Mansion, admitted he was in the photo, deeply apologized for the “pain,” and promised to work harder to regain trust from Virginians. He looked like a humbled, contrite man. His career seemed over.
And then came the next day! Presto! The embattled governor held a press conference, his wife by his side, but this time, no apologies, no regrets. He was mad! He went on the offensive with this argument: That was not me in those photos, and I have no idea who those repugnant people are, or how those racist photos somehow ended up on my personal yearbook page.
Watching his contrite apology Friday night followed by an angry and vehement denial was like reading Orwell’s 1984.
“Oceana has always been at war with East Asia and allied with Eurasia.”
And moments later:
“Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia and allied with East Asia.”
After Sen. George Allen’s foolish “macaca” comment in 2006, (I had to check a dictionary then to see what that word was), the media pounced and pounded relentlessly until they ensured Allen’s defeat and with it, the end of a GOP majority in the Senate.
But with Northam? Sure, there was an intense media firestorm…for a while. But then, it slowly disappeared like an April snow in Roanoke. Northam announced he was launching a “listening tour” and he was going to read the bestseller Roots, (which by the way was published in 1976, the year Gerald Ford was in the White House). Magically, as if the Democrats and media were reading from the same page, we were told Northam was aware of “systemic racism” everywhere but he was the modern Moses to lead us into the Promised Land of fairness and equity.
But wait: during the four years before Northam’s administration, Democrat McAuliffe was governor. Before him was Republican Bob McDonnell, but before that Democrats Tim Kaine and Mark Warner had occupied the Governor’s Mansion.
So, for 12 of the 16 years before Northam took office, Democrats were governors. If Virginia was riddled with racism, what does that say about McAuliffe, Kaine, and Warner? And speaking of now-Senator Kaine, why did Northam never call him out for living for over 20 years on Richmond’s Confederate Avenue?
Another early thrust of Northam’s administration was gun control. The measures were so numerous and to many people so outrageous, it took a crowd of countless thousands (some claim tens of thousands) in January 2020 to fill the streets of downtown Richmond to get some Democrats to back off. Even Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) saw the light and broke with his party on some votes. I remember thinking at the time, “What sort of sick, broken democracy requires thousands of armed (and let me note peaceful) people to fill the streets to finally get the attention of some politicians? When did simple phone calls stop working?”
Northam oversaw an out-of-control parole board–that included Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea–that broke state law and released violent criminals onto the streets, some of whom committed more acts of violence. From Northam came no apologies, no accountability.
And then in March 2020 came Covid. Some boasted, “We’re lucky in Virginia! We have the only governor who is also a doctor!” However, the governor soon started issuing emergency orders one after another. I am not a scientist or a doctor, but as a person who tries to think for myself, many of the decrees seemed to make no sense, and so many kept changing. Northam closed churches but kept ABC stores and abortion mills open? He issued midnight curfews, as if the virus were harmless at 11:55 pm but suddenly turned deadly at 12:01? Big box stores were opened but small shops and gyms were closed?
For a while after the vaccine came out, Virginia lagged behind a number of other states, including West Virginia.
In a way, the January 3-4, 2022 snowstorm was the perfect “bookend” for the Northam Administration. Having spent years haranguing and undercutting law enforcement for “systemic racism,” when there was a true emergency Northam could not or would not deploy the needed resources on the ground. Stranded motorists (on I-95, one of the busiest and most crucial highways in the nation) reported going over 24 hours without seeing any help or guidance from the police. Having focused much of his energy waging his war against statutes from the Civil War that ended in 1865, he was slow to come to grips with what should be a basic government function: keeping major roads open after a snowstorm.
That is one of my major beefs with “wokeness.” We get all torqued up about Stonewall Jackson who was killed by his own men in 1863, while we lose sight of taking care of business today.
Some drivers reported that the electronic VDOT signs along I-95 that day mentioned nothing about impending snow but instead pleaded “MASK UP!”
In a move that I think is more suited for a satire site like The Babylon Bee rather than real life, Northam used his official twitter page to encourage trapped drivers that night: “Sunlight is expected to help @VaDOT clear the road.”
When faced with a firestorm over the botched situation, Northam responded: “We all need to be clear that this was an incredibly unusual event.” Exactly. That is why we vote for leaders. They are supposed to be prepared for “unusual events.” Can you imagine FDR whining about Pearl Harbor as an “unusual event”?
Still refusing to take personal responsibility or apologize for the botched response, Northam blamed the drivers for being on the road in the snow storm. Never mind that I-95 carries traffic from Florida to Maine, and motorists expect interstates to be somewhat cleared. Some cars carried infants, diabetics, and others with critical health needs. Plus, one of those trapped drivers was Sen. Tim Kaine, who came within a hairbreadth of being Vice President.
The Ralph Northam administration will come to an end at noon on Saturday, January 15, 2022. And not a minute too soon.
Scott Dreyer lives in Roanoke. A licensed teacher since 1987, he leads a team of educators teaching English and ESL to a global audience. This column is republished with permission from The Roanoke Star.
Northam refused to shake hands with his black opponent, E.W. Jackson
Northam and his allies’ despicable 2017 TV ad featuring man in pickup truck
Northam–a pediatrician–endorses infanticide
Northam admits he was in the racist photo–the day before he denied being in the racist photo
Sen. Kaine trapped in snow on I-95 for 27 hours between Richmond and DC
Northam blames the motorists for getting themselves stuck in the snow