Ralph Northam’s Power Play

by Kerry Dougherty

After several weeks of acting with remarkable restraint, Ralph Northam on Monday suddenly gave in to his tyrannical impulses.

He sternly ordered all schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

Someone give this man a calendar. It’s MARCH. On the 13th of this month he ordered the schools closed for two weeks.

“I recognize this will pose a hardship on many families, but closing our schools for two weeks will not only give our staff time to clean and disinfect school facilities, it will help slow the spread of this virus,” he said at the time.

He jumped from that to this?

With one wave of his imperious little hand, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, Northam became only the second governor in the nation – after Kansas’ – to close schools through the end of the school year.

What’s the hurry, Governor? It’s not a race.

Four states haven’t closed schools at all: Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa and Maine. Most others have shuttered for a couple of weeks and are re-evaluating.

With yesterday’s hasty and heavy-handed move Northam slyly signaled that the other shutdowns he’s ordered are also going to last months rather than weeks. Almost as if he’s been spoon-feeding his plans to the public rather than being honest.

Unless I’m completely misreading the current mood, ordinary folks aren’t going to stand for indefinite, months-long shutdowns. A few weeks. Maybe. Months? Watch out.

In the words of William Butler Yeats, “The centre cannot hold.”

In an editorial last week, The Wall Street Journal warned against extending what were supposed to be temporary shutdowns:

Even cash-rich businesses operate on a thin margin and can bleed through reserves in a month. First they will lay off employees and then out of necessity they will shut down. Another month like this week and the layoffs will be measured in millions of people.


Virginians must get back to work. And well before June. Seems like it was just last week we were promised that the shutdowns were limited.

“Fifteen days to slow the spread.” Remember that?

It’s beginning to look like that slogan was a ploy to lure the public into an ugly, indefinite and unpaid vacation.

By practicing social distancing, staying at home and vigorous hand-washing, Virginians may have already flattened the curve of new infections and we don’t know it. After all, testing just began. Everyone expected numbers to rise sharply once tests became available. Surely Northam knew that.

Newly confirmed cases – driving up the daily totals – likely contracted the disease days or weeks ago.

Instead of shutting down more enterprises, Northam and other governors should start making plans to help businesses open with stringent new practices aimed at reducing the chance of spreading the contagion, while asking older folks and those with underlying health conditions to stay home longer.

In a press conference yesterday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York indicated he was preparing to do something like that: “We also have to start to plan the pivot back to economic functionality.”.

Amen to that.

If some businesses are resuscitated in a few weeks, what exactly are parents supposed to do with their kids after the governor’s premature decision to close schools?

Many of us quietly feared what would happen once politicians got a taste of limitless executive power in emergency situations. Some of our worst fears are starting to play out.

This column was posted originally at www.kerrydougherty.com.

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52 responses to “Ralph Northam’s Power Play

  1. Yesterday Peter was complaining Northam was being too laissez-faire, and here he gets beaten on for an aggressive move. Fascinating.

    Closing the schools for good was a surprising move. There is almost another three months until normal closure, so the idea that four or five weeks could be salvaged at the end seemed reasonable. K-12 is not the same as college, and on-line is not going to work that well. My grandkids are lucky because Nana is running “home school boot camp” and they’ll rush back to school for a lighter time. 🙂

    Looks to me like he split the baby on shutdowns. It was not a stay in place order, and that may still come. But his move finally forced the community association here to order everybody away from the small (never crowded) fitness center, so rather than COVID-19 getting me it will be six weeks without real cardio workouts….

    I do share Kerry’s concerns about the abuses of power, most obvious on display in DC as the Pelosi-Schumer Democrats hold economic rescue funds hostage to a broad leftist agenda, from union goals to green energy boodle.

    • I would have preferred the governor leave the school closing decision to the localities, but I’m not sure it would make a difference in my local school system. The last scheduled day of school this year was May 21, so it is likely they ultimately would have salvaged a couple of weeks at the most.

      My son was scheduled to graduate high school on May 22. I’ve been wondering since the schools first closed how graduating high school seniors will be dealt with.

      Summer school does not seem like a viable option for them since some have already been accepted to schools/programs which require attendance over the summer (the service academies, for instance). My son is not in that situation, but in thinking back to my own mind-set during my senior year of high school, I’d have sooner started a revolution than agree to my graduation date being delayed by 6-8 weeks.

      • Of course it should have been left to the logicalities. But the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond maximizes its greed, graft and grifting through a strict implementation of Dillon’s Rule. Why steal only at the state level when you can use Dillon’s Rule to steal at the local level too?

        I feel sorry for your son. I can still remember my high school graduation from Groveton High School in 1977. I would think that a graduation in an outdoor football stadium restricted to the senior class (in person) and filmed for the parents, grandparents, etc to watch over the internet would be feasible in a lot of localities. Not the best but better than nothing.

        However, King Ralph has spoken. And nobody dare confront the great and powerful Ralph.

        • It’s a Dillon Rule state, a STATE education system. The mandatory number of hours, credits, etc are all state regulatory decisions. The credits need to be recognized from locality to locality and by the colleges. So a statewide scheduling decision is actually logical.

          • No it’s not logical. The epidemic varies widely by locality. Local real estate taxes (assessed at different rates by locality) fund the lion’s share of the public K-12 system. Internet access varies by locality. Ownership of computers by students varies by locality.

            Fairfax County is something of a COVID-19 hotspot. Fairfax County gives its students computers and the county is well wired for the internet. They should try to teach remotely. As far as I know Wise County has yet to experience a single case of COVID-19. Why shouldn’t they be able to call school back into session?

            I don’t care about credits or what colleges expect. I care about teaching children. The mindless bureaucracy of credits and colleges will have to be resolved at some point in the future. For now, what’s right for Fairfax County is almost certainly not what right for Wise County.

            It’s time to get the Richmond bureaucrats off the backs of Virginians.

  2. We’re seeing the results of Virginia’s political infrastructure at work. The political elite in Virginia use a variety of anti-democratic laws to stifle competition for elected office. For example:

    1. Worst state for partisan gerrymandering keeps ineffective politicians in office by cordoning off competition.
    2. Limitless campaign contributions makes fundraising at scale critical which benefits incumbents.
    3. No term limits for the legislature creates politicians for life.
    4. Off year elections hold down voter participation.

    The list goes on.

    The net effect is that elections in Virginia are more coronations than contests. Extremely weak candidates like Ralph Northam are elected because it was their time in the minds of the powerful few. Nobody notices or cares until a crisis arises. Then the incompetence of our state government becomes obvious.

    Northam’s failing is arrogance more than stupidity. Like others in Virginia’s political elite Northam just doesn’t see why he should explain his actions as governor to the “little people” who he supposedly leads. So he casts about zigging from delayed school closings to zagging in being one of only two governors to shut down all schools through the end of the year. Explanation? One can imagine King Ralph saying, ” You don’t need no stinkin’ explanation. Shut up, pay your rising taxes and even faster rising electricity bills and do what your betters tell you to do!”

    The Imperial Clown Show in Richmond is intolerable in their arrogance and condescension toward the electorate. If this epidemic does anything over the long term let’s hope it amps up the public’s repressed rage against the ongoing buffoonery in Richmond.

    Explain yourself King Ralph! Why are you making a series of random and often conflicting decisions? “Trust me” has never been good enough and is certainly not good enough now.

  3. Governor Northam was criticized in the Washington Post on the early morning of March 23 for being insufficiently proactive. That piece was widely retransmitted and referenced in the Virginia press and online commentators. It may have been what caused his flurry of activity yesterday afternoon including additional business restrictions and closing schools for the rest of the year. It appears he may have taken the entire list of options he was offered by his staff and implemented them all at once.

    • THAT is what I’m hearing sparked this. The kindergarten apparatchiks that populate his pool of advisers freaked over the Post piece.

    • You may be right. However, crisis management is a pretty well established field. There is a good way to handle things and a bad way to handle things. As I recall from business-oriented crisis management over-communication is key. Can you imagine the shrieking from people just like Ralph Northam and his liberal followers if British Petroleum would have followed the “just trust us” philosophy after the Deepwater Horizon disaster? What id BP had held daily press conferences with no useful details, seemingly arbitrary and capricious decisions about how to handle the disaster, no timetable for resolution and so on? Liberal heads would have exploded. Why does Northam get a free pass?

      Time for King Ralph to start acting like Gov Andrew Cuomo – a real leader managing a real crisis the right way.

    • Not sure about that.
      I heard on Sunday March 22 that some school parents/teachers knew that a decision to close the schools was in the works for Gov announcement on March 23 Monday. I can try to see from my sources how far back they knew that.

      Good article though…I was just asking my wife why Northam would have cancelled out to end of year, quite so soon. DC has recently said they go back to school end of March.

      If it is anything akin to Fairfax schools abrupt closure on Friday the 13th, social media pressure from parents may have played a role.

    • If a stupid article in the WaPo can have such a drastic effect on Mr. Northam’s policy decisions then we might as well put a weather-vane on top of our Capitol building and name it “Governor”.

  4. I still don’t see where Northam is much different than his peers on this. There is obviously some variation but they’re all essentially saying the same thing – informed by science in separating people from each other as much as possible. I don’t get DJ’s criticisms and am sure, at some point, we’ll see a public poll on Northams performance and I’ll be surprised if it aligns with DJ’s views.

    And yes, it’s becoming painfully obvious that people are not prepared for the scope and extent of what most of the states and the Fed are doing now with even stricter rules coming.

    And we are starting to see people break from what is planned. They do not believe the restrictions are warranted.

    graduation event? nope. on paper, yes, but probably no physical one – perhaps some kind of online setup… or “drive-by” , etc… but no gatherings.

    If the science is right -if it IS right – contagion is going to be rampant – and actual circumstances of widespread infection, not govt rules, will influence people as to whether they should be out and about and mixing with others for anything other than absolute necessity and even then if contagion is widespread – even going to the grocery will entail risk.

    I have yet to see a single public official – elected or appointed who disagrees with these restrictions – save Mr. Trump perhaps.

    As far as I can tell, they do believe the science – even though they are also informed by economists on the economic damage – they all make the same judgement – extreme/draconian restrictions and suffer the economic damage.

    be interesting to see a poll of the public’s attitude towards this.

  5. I was going to post this as a response elsewhere, but it works here, too.

    Ach zo. Because he promised, or was himself promised, a model (cooling off period) on which to based COVID decisions, he should wait?

    Give yourself some credit. You’ve stated a while ago that it was exponential growth. Perhaps he read your blog and was convinced of the urgency.

    We had an expression at work, OBE (pronounced “oh bee ee”) which stands for “overtaken by events”. Literally, it meant that we were not bound on Wednesday by assumptions we had made on Monday because of things (events) that occurred on Tuesday, hence “overtaken by events”.

    It’s antithetical to the Conservative proposition WIWAWB (“What is, was, and will be.” pronounced “Why Waa Wub” [just kidding, no one ever uses it, let alone makes it into a word]).

    Why just consider; if Gub’na Dimwittie, Dunwoodie, whoever, had closed all public wells for testing, your boy could still be alive today… uh, wait,… Well, the point being, just because that Gub’na didn’t doesn’t mean our Gub’na can’t. OBE, you see.

    Unemployed, unedited, and mercifully, unread.

    • In a crisis management situation leaders generally get a lot of latitude if (and only if) they communicate regularly, effectively and in detail. Northam is a typical Virginia politician – zigging from under-response to over-response with no explanation of his actions. He can’t or won’t even describe where we stand on testing. Commenters on this blog yesterday put forth the idea that only state lab based tests were being reported. Does that imply that only state lab based positives are being reported too? Who knows? Ralphie the Mime doesn’t seem to be talking.

      All the dingbat has to do is follow the example of Gov Cuomo and methodically and logically explain where we stand, what he’s doing and why and what people should expect.

      The only way this ends (short of a medical miracle) without economic depression is for politicians like Ralph Northam to get the facts and figures on the table and let people make informed decisions as to the level of risk they are willing to take.

      Perhaps Ralph is gun shy given his shambolic interview over proposed new abortion laws, infanticide etc. Does he know that he’s incapable of stringing two sentences together without creating a mess? If so, follow Trump’s lead and appoint a more articulate member of the administration to do the talking.

  6. If Northam and his advisers believe the science, sending teachers back to schools to mix in close proximity with other humans – would be irresponsible if the schools ended up being major vectors of infection.

    I just don’t see beating up Northam on this. It’s a matter of judgement on the best thing to do – and yes arguable – but not a “failure” of leadership at all.

    These days and especially now – no matter what Northam and other Governors do – they’re going to be criticized by one group or another.

    That’s what we have become as a society unfortunately and it’s on display in all it’s ugliness.

    • All Ralph needs to do is get up on stage and explain his actions. Slowly, methodically, quantifiably and logically. Is that too much to ask of our sitting governor? Why do you have to guess what Northam and his advisors believe? Why doesn’t he stand up and say his piece like competent governors all across the country are doing?

      Ralph the Mime needs to speak, speak often and speak honestly.

      Until he does speak up I assume his zigging and zagging between a slow passive response and a fast aggressive response is either because he knows something he’s not admitting or he’s just purely incompetent.

  7. Thank God political leaders don’t “all make the same judgment” as opined above. Governor Cuomo among others has joined with the President to speak about a need to pivot soon to getting people back to work while the seniors and those with underlying conditions stay sheltered in place. The Wall Street Journal has editorialized about the same thing. Causing another Great Depression by being totally imprisoned by the singular remedy of social distancing and applying it to all Americans is the biggest danger of what we are doing. As of March 19, the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm estimated deaths from the regular flu had already killed 22,000 Americans. We don’t shut down the economy for the flu. I understand the difference, so no calls and letters please, but the restoration of the economy before it is permanently damaged is as high a priority at some point soon as social isolation against COVID-19. Elected leaders will make that tough call. We can just hope that they have enough good advice on the two competing goals to make the right decisions. At that point having a Governor who is a physician may not be optimum. We’ll see.

  8. A new headline “India’s prime minister decreed a 21-day lockdown for the country of 1.3 billion”. I hope Gov. Northam does not see it.

  9. My concern in closing schools and providing opportunities for children to have continuity of education at home. This is an absurd principle for many children. What if your parent is illiterate (the literacy rate in Petersburg for example is concerning)? What if your parent doesn’t speak English? What if you don’t have access to internet? What if you have special needs? The what ifs reach infinity.

    Schools need to be careful about requiring something in return for passing or failing a grade or course, let alone graduating. School systems are in Equity Issues up to their eyeballs. Dr. Lane knows this and has offered some advice to keep systems out of trouble, but like many other state superintendents, is likely to back off based on what USED issues in guidance. Not to mention, our superintendents may be forced to back off by their own school boards.

    For example, how can you test and grade a student on an objective in which he/she was not taught by a certified teacher?

    It will be interesting to see the guidance coming from the Department of Education.

  10. The responses are all a mess because the leadership at the top has NOT A CLUE about anything other than himself and his reelection. Did you all read my recent post that said the EPA was told not to report anything negative about climate change?

    DJ, I thought when you praised the way Cuomo was handling the crisis in NY. , that we had a lot of agreement, but then … “follow Trump’s lead and appoint a more articulate member of the administration to do the talking.”
    IF ONLY Trump would just shut up! Fauchi seems to be gone. Is that because he dared speak truth as science sees it? Or maybe didn’t open his comment with praise for the Pres?

    Our Governor was a pediatrician, which seems to me to be a whole different skill set. Whether you liked Cuomo’s father or not, Andrew sure learned a lot about being a political/government leader.

    • Good point, indirectly.
      If we know just one thing, Northam’s alleged power play was not about getting re-elected!

      We should get former Gov McAuliffe’s reading on why Northam did this.

      • “If we know just one thing, Northam’s alleged power play was not about getting re-elected!”

        No, but it might be about getting elected to some other office…

        • perhaps.. if Warner or Kaine decide they’ve had enough. But all
          Northam has to really do is keep his NoVa and Hampton supporters and a few others like Charlottesville and he’s good to go – the back-bitter contingent won’t matter much…

      • Do you mean “The Once and Future” Gov McAuliffe

    • Just found this little compilation that illustrates what I said .. that Trump should SHUT UP! … That he is endangering people who listen to him.

      Feb. 28, 2020
      “[Coronavirus is] going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”

      Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview on CNN that the virus was likely here to stay, possibly for months.

      Feb. 10, 2020
      “Now, the virus that we’re talking about having to do—you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat—as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April. We’re in great shape though.”

      Some coronaviruses are seasonal. But scientists still don’t know whether the virus that causes COVID-19 will be.

      Feb. 28, 2020
      “Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it … And this is their new hoax.”

      By this time, the U.S. had confirmed 60 cases of coronavirus. The CDC had already warned the public to prepare for the virus to spread, assuring them that this was not a hoax.

      March 6, 2020
      “Anybody that needs a test can have a test. They are all set. They have them out there. In addition to that they are making millions more as we speak but as of right now and yesterday anybody that needs a test that is the important thing…”

      Contrary to Trump’s assertion, patients and health care workers were complaining that they could not get access to coronavirus tests. A few days later, testifying to a House committee, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged tests were not yet widely available.

      March 13, 2020
      Trump is seen shaking hands with Walgreens president Richard Ashworth, despite CDC warnings that shaking hands can spread the virus and recommending elbow bumps instead.

      March 18, 2020 on Twitter
      “I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the ‘borders’ from China—against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!”

      Trump has been urged to stop calling COVID-19 the “Chinese Virus,” a term he has used repeatedly and that some have called racist and dangerous.


  11. “IF ONLY Trump would just shut up!”

    Agreed. I’ve been saying that for four years or more. He is his own worst enemy as far as I am concerned.

    • The problem is that it’s not really a “messaging” problem. When he talks he’s actually indicating who he is and what he wants to do.

      • As opposed to other politicians who lie about who they are and what they want to do?

      • Agreed for a normal situation … but what he is saying is in direct contradiction of his scientists. In the terrible situation people might continue to believe him.
        The headline just now on an aol news box … “Trump once again breaks with public health experts”.

        • As I said, I too wish he would shut up and he is his own worst enemy.

          It was Larry who tried to put a purely political spin on it.

          • Jane Twitmyer

            My response was to Larry, but it evidently got out of order ….

          • Nope. I just said that words are not the problem. Any fool can blather his butt off. But it matters a lot when those words represent that persons ideas and intents.

            attributing “words” to Trump as if they are just words is missing the issue.

            and I WOULD SAY the very same thing about ANY politician left or right. It’s the simple non-partisan truth. For instance, I have zero doubt that what Cuomo is saying is just “words”. It’s not… it’s his intent.

  12. If I were governor, I’d have opted for depth over breadth. Wrong bet by Northam.

  13. And Cuomo may look like he is leading now, but he was slow to act to prevent the obvious from happening in NY and I see NY as losing in the catch-up. Ohio acted proactively, well ahead of less obvious risk. They may actually be flattening the curve; new infection rate dropped from 46% to 42% to 26% increases over the past few days.

  14. yes.. simultaneously – Northam is on a arrogant power hungry trip and at the same time weak and ineffectual… just gotta get both groups in the same room to figure out best way to go about hating him…


    I swear, just watching the different groups gin up their complaints without stepping on each others messages is comical.

    I think the one thing they DO have in common is that they don’t like this situation. They’re angry about it and someone has got to be responsible for this mess. And who better to pick than a mild-mannered doctor who was guilty of blackface. In today’s chattering class environment – a dang Saint would be the devil incarnate…

  15. Naw… that’s pure unadulterated balderdash.

    I think Northam is getting “advise” and when his staff likes something, he does it… unlike Trump….

    Characterizing Northam as a power-hungry megalomaniac in the age of Trump is funny as hell.

  16. So, you DON’T think il Duce was power hungry, arrogant, weak and ineffectual? (Hint: It was a JOKE!)

    And for the record, I have never characterized Ralph Northam as a megalomaniac. I have called him a lot of things – elitist, condescending, racist, arrogant, ignorant, even moronic*. But I have NEVER used the word megalomaniac to describe him.

    * NOTE: In hindsight, calling Mr. Northam moronic was unfair. I do not really think he is a moron. However, I do think he lacks understanding on a lot of issues.

  17. I was including all the various names and characterizations that I have heard in characterizations that are similar – same church different pew.

    The point made was that for someone who is being characterized by these pejoratives, he hardly fits that image … milk toast pretty much… and what exactly would he have to gain by appearing in public as an “elitist”, “raist” or “ignorant” in the first place?

    Those are not characterizations that fit his image at the few press conferences he does hold. He’s the opposite of Trump and Cuomo and the majority of Virginia citizens simply would not agree with the critics..anyhow.

    It’s just beyond the pale to accuse him of all these things ranging from arrogant and controlling to moronic and weak – all at the same time.

    It reflects more on the name callers than him.

    • It astonishes me that you still cannot discern facetiousness when you see it – especially when its presence was virtually spelled out for you in a previous comment.

      I predicted to myself what your response to my last comment would be, and I was about 85% correct. I did not expect you to use the term “milk toast” so I lost a few points for that, but I just KNEW you were going to compare Northam to Trump and I guessed correctly that you would drag Cuomo in to it. I was also pretty certain you were going to say something along the lines of “it reflects more on the name callers than him”, although I did not get the exact wording right (so I lost a point or two on that).

      Now that I know how easily you can be manipulated I could start having some real fun around here. After all, I’ve got to find something to replace the NHL playoffs, Formula 1 racing and MotoGP, right?

  18. Guys, readers of this blog know that I have criticized Ralph Northam on many occasions. Speaking personally — I don’t want to limit the conversation — I don’t think we gain anything by speculating about his intelligence. We should judge him on the quality of his decisions, his actions, and his ability to communicate.

  19. He is quite smart. Physicians are all smart. He is a nice man from all reports. He simply doesn’t have good leadership instincts at the Governor level. Not a criticism but rather an observation repeatedly reinforced. Remember the near moon walk at the blackface press conference until his wife stopped him and the “put the baby aside until the parents decide what to do with it” infanticide interview that caused the blackface photo to be released by his classmate? It is not a crime to be a bad leader, but these are the kind of times that we figure it out.

    • I never thought from the day he became the heir-apparent to McAuliffe that he had a chance against Gillespie who has far more personality and charisma but then Virginia voters apparently were not interested in looks and personality. ” In the general election on November 7, 2017, Democratic nominee Ralph Northam defeated Republican nominee Ed Gillespie, winning by the largest margin for a Democrat since 1985. 53.9% 45.0%

      I was astounded… but ultimately it showed that Virginia had been trending blue even if the Dems had a weak candidate because it was largely on the issues – like health care and other issues important to folks in the urban areas.

      Of course the folks who found the blackface stuff, had really, really bad timing!

      • The election was won by Northern VA liberals and the anti-pipeline coalition which is not party line. Someone has actually written about how the right, who are justly mad about their property rights and whose stand is “No eminent domain for private gain,” and the environmental left who both comprise the anti-pipeline coalition out in the west and south west.

  20. johnrandolphofroanoke

    I think Ralph looks better with a neck tie on. Something about a collared shirt, jacket, and no tie. He certainly needs to stay away from bow ties.

  21. I dunno…

  22. So on Sunday, March 22, it was publicly announced in some news outlets that on Monday, March 23, Gov Northam would announce a decision on schools.

    My extended family which includes parents/students anticipated correctly that Northam, if the Gov was going to say something, then he must be going to close the schools, which he did indeed do on Monday.

    As far as “why?” nobody knows but one theory is to encourage the schools to get going with online remote learning, rather than sitting around doing nothing, waiting for the next shoe to drop.

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