Uncertain Times, Uncertain Leadership

by Shaun Kenney

You have to give Governor Ralph Northam the tiniest bit of credit. Not only did he survive wearing blackface or wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood (we still don’t know which) but he has done just about everything possible to present himself as the only governor who is also a doctor of medicine.

Richmond will point towards Virginia’s rather decent numbers fighting COVID-19 in comparison to the rest of the South. Geographers will point at the great American megalopolis that stretches from Boston to Hampton Roads. Nothing novel has come from Virginia since William Faulkner — and cancel culture will come for him in due course, I’m sure.

So points for self-preservation.

What we should be talking about is that Virginia — unique among her neighbors — seems to have the worst of both worlds.

Despite our current flirtation with Phase 3 restrictions, businesses are in limbo as to whether or not Northam will continue to allow retail and restaurants to function even at half-mast.

Virginia’s public schools are no better off. Debates are raging about two days on and three days off vs. online education as if there was a choice. The Virginia Department of Education has had since March to institute a statewide plan for online instruction in a worst-case (and most likely) scenario.

Northam has provided nothing.

Private and parochial schools — flummoxed by a 100-plus page report that is useless to God and man — are looking to go it alone.

College and universities who are utterly dependent upon room and board to function are playing a game of chicken where they will advertise opening on time only to pull the rug on non-refundable fees in October. The alternative? Going online and still charging full freight.

No one in Richmond seems to even have this on the horizon.

Yet even with all of this upheaval, what is Northam focusing on? Gun-grabbing and so-called police reform.

At a time when BLM and Antifa are throwing rocks, bricks, urine, Drano, asphalt and firing rockets at our law enforcement personnel, then following up such violence with demands that police be replaced with social workers, Democrats now believe that Virginians should unilaterally disarm.


Now of course, national Democrats have been throwing the figurative version of all of this towards President Donald Trump. If only he would wear a mask, if only he would lead, if only he would calm fears, if only… if only… if only…

Northam seems to be exempt from such concerns. Not only is he exempt, but in an attempt to get in front of his own mob (maybe 500 people, mind you) both Northam and Herring seem to be willing to do everything in their power to feed the instability while Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has notably been doing something else: praying with faith leaders.

You see, that’s leadership that recognizes fears while creating stability.

But neither Northam nor Herring nor Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney can do these things. Change is in the wind. Monuments must come down. Masks must be worn. Schools must be opened. Guns must be grabbed. Police must be stopped. Roads must be painted (but potholes left untouched).

Is this really the Virginia we all want?

Of course, I am not here to advise Governor Northam on how to resolve the current tensions. Advice from Virginia Republicans — it has been made very clear — is neither needed nor welcome during such times of opportunity. Fair enough.

But it should be mentioned that Northam’s failure to lead is creating many more problems than Richmond is able to resolve, and it is percolating to local government in a way that only creates more uncertainty and unrest.

What would be useful from the Governor’s Office?

  • Directing the Virginia Department of Education to develop a statewide protocol and system for online education, with state vouchers to parents who elect to either homeschool or send their children elsewhere.
  • A statewide mandatory mask-in-public order carrying civil fines.
  • Resuming Phase 2 restrictions for the duration of the pandemic as the “new normal”.
  • The swift and immediate arrest of agitators in the BLM and Antifa movements and clearing the streets of those who violate curfews.
  • Clean up Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
  • Establish a task force for college and universities with recommendations on what a potential “bailout” might look like (if warranted).

Task forces should be established — quickly and in concert with business leaders — to figure out what a two-year crisis looks like.

For instance, 35% of all mortgage and rents went unpaid or underpaid in June; what does that look like in practice if this continues until December? What does Virginia’s food security look like for those unemployed or underemployed? Will the lights still go on and off?

What happens when the number of beds outpaces the number of medical professionals to take care of folks? Even if we get it right in Virginia, what happens when folks come from places such as California, Texas, Florida or New York?

Of course, we all know the answer. If Northam takes a stand and actually leads in a unifying way? Northam breaks faith the the progressive base holding the Sword of Damocles over his head. If he unifies the government and tamps down the crazy, Northam ends his political career.

If Northam chooses to focus rather than wanders into the weeds of gun control and defunding our state and local law enforcement? Republicans might still disagree with the man. But at least we would all gain that certain quality modern politicians seem to have lost for one another: respect.

Instead, Northam’s briefings and the information from the Governor’s Office have been the opposite of informative. Moreover, there has been no calm, no unity, no certainty with this governor.

Feckless and unmoored, Virginia doesn’t seem to be enjoying the fruits of a COVID pandemic mostly under control precisely because of the tolerance of violence from socialists who have yet to find their boundaries yet.

That should strike everyone as rather unsettling.

Which leads us to perhaps only one conclusion.: Northam is simply not fitted for the times. Uncertain, feckless, unsure of where he stands with his own public and even less sure about the direction of the Commonwealth, perhaps Northam’s talents would be better served in a clinic rather than in the Executive Mansion?

I have no doubt he is a good (if flawed) man, but the times require a leader of men.

Facts are, Northam simply isn’t providing the leadership that brings certainty in an uncertain time.

That’s his fault and no one else.

Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. This column was published originally at The Republican Standard.

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27 responses to “Uncertain Times, Uncertain Leadership

  1. I thought this was going to devolve into just another rant from the right, critical of such leadership as we have without making any realistic suggestions or proposed realistic fixes, as Republicans have done all too often nationally and at the Virginia level. And I just finished posting a comment on the previous post about Northam, defending his leadership (with qualification). Ye Gods it’s better leadership than we are seeing at the federal level!

    But you fooled me, Mr. Kenney — I agree entirely with your list of actions the Governor — or, let’s hasten to add, leadership in the GA — could take, if only as the starting point for bipartisan discussion. {I would tone down the references to Antifa and the BLM movement and other “looters,” or broaden your scope to include groups like the VCDL if appealing to the political center is part of what you remotely hope to achieve). This could become a sensible list.

    Now, how much of what’s on that list is realistic in Virginia at this time, for Northam or anyone else? And do you think the number of Republicans in VA’s congressional delegation will increase or decrease this November; or in the GA and the executive branch next year? The Republicans have had their times in the majority and rather than putting forward ideas of their own when they could have achieved something, they merely blocked everything from the other side of the table (except maybe Mr. Saslaw’s bills on behalf of Dominion Energy). Blue State Virginia may indeed prove to be an aberration in the long run but for now it is an overdue correction to years of non-leadership from the Republicans, with demographic trends favoring the other side.

    • I can’t raise an argument against your analysis of the GOP. They did nothing but obsess over abortion and gay marriage for years and years. Nothing is more disgusting than politicians obsessing over morality while infrastructure rots and basic functions of government crumble.
      No doubt they deserved to lose power… it’s just equally cruddy to see who has power.

    • “I would tone down the references to Antifa and the BLM movement and other “looters,” or broaden your scope to include groups like the VCDL…”

      Really? Why would you include the VCDL?

  2. A very fine and useful post by Shaun Kenney.

  3. “If he unifies the government and tamps down the crazy, Northam ends his political career.”

    What political career? As long as his medical school yearbook pictures, nickname, etc are in the public domain Northam doesn’t have a political career. And if the left were even somewhat consistent he shouldn’t have a political career. The same people who support Northam somehow justify boycotting Goya because the company’s CEO made comments in support of Donald Trump. I guess cancel culture only cancels sometimes.

    • Interesting that the author of this article, who is about as entrenched in the Virginia GOP as one can be, overlooks the blackface scandal.

      Likely, just as the Virginia GOP did before Northam got elected. Yep, I don’t believe for a New York minute that nobody associated with the Virginia GOP had any idea about that.

      • you missed the first part!

        ” You have to give Governor Ralph Northam the tiniest bit of credit. Not only did he survive wearing blackface or wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood “

        • Alright, no, you don’t need to give Northam any credit for that. Being a good ‘ole boy member of the Plantation Class here in Virginia lets you get away with things that others cannot.

  4. I still look at Northam compared to other Governors. Holding him “accountable” for sins that are fairly universal with other governors is not really great.

    The basic issue with Northam and most of the other governors is that they have no idea what the twists and turns of this virus will be – so they’re all pretty much hedging their bets.

    Northam just has a terrible persona and public presence but all in all, he’s not that more worse than Cuomo or DeBlaise or Abbot or DeSantis… they all have their moments…

    People are mad and frustrated about the virus and not at all willing to accept anything less than heroic leadership. Problem is that’s not in big abundance with any of them right now… there just are no heroes and instead lots of goats.

    • My problems with Northam are as follows:

      1. He was a racist as an educated adult in the 1980s. I graduated from high school in 1977 and college in 1981 (both in Virginia) and I can’t even imagine what kind of ***hole it would take to attend a party with people dressed in klan robes let alone have the yearbook photo and nickname that Northam had in medical school. He wasn’t a teenager and it wasn’t the 1950s.

      2. He’s a liar. His claim that it was him in the yearbook photo followed by the claim that it wasn’t him followed by the claim he didn’t know why those photos and nickname were used followed by his claim that he never knew the photo was in the yearbook were just a string of lies, all told while he was governor.

      3. He wants to tax me to pay for his racism. Northam’s efforts to save his un-savable political career center around taking money from non-racist Virginians to pay for the atonement of his adult racism.

      4. He is incompetent. While the COVID-19 epidemic raged in Northern Virginia and some other areas in the state Northam could not get an effective testing regime working. Virginia routinely placed at or near the bottom of all US states. The vast majority of other governors did far better than Northam in testing.

      5. He covered up the nursing home deaths. Northam openly violated the US and Virginia Constitutions with his emergency orders but refused to provide data on COVID-19 outbreaks at specific nursing homes citing a ridiculous interpretation of HIPPA rules. Other states, notably Maryland, provided detailed information by nursing home. Once again, the bought and paid for Virginia state government protected the special interests who line their pockets with money.

      6. He’s a hypocrite. Northam was photographed while out and about on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach in close proximity to strangers without wearing a mask. His excuse? He left his mask in the car.

      7. He’s a con artist. Northam supported and signed opaque regulations that subsidized electricity for poor people through a rate differential buried within Dominion’s bills. If necessary, this should have been a transparent increase in taxes on Virginia’s middle class and wealthy with the stated purpose of subsidizing electrical bills for those of limited means. Of course a transparent tax increase would be unpopular so Northam and the Democrats played three card monte with electricity rates.

      8. He never learns. As of a week ago Virginia was still allowing hospitals to discharge patients back to nursing homes without being tested for COVID-19.

      9. He and his supporters make false claims. By the only measure that really matters (per capita COVID-19 deaths) Virginia finished #22 out of 50 states. Shawn Kenney writes, “Richmond will point towards Virginia’s rather decent numbers fighting COVID-19 in comparison to the rest of the South.” Many other southern states have considerably better statistics regarding per capita COVID-19 deaths including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Florida (yes, Florida), Kentucky, Texas (yes, Texas) and Arkansas.

      10. He’s gutless. Maryland’s mask order is simple and all-inclusive. If you go into a retail store you must wear a mask. No exceptions. Northam’s mask order left gaping holes for people who may have unspecified respiratory issues. This requires a business owner to somehow magically enforce mask orders where anybody can claim that they can’t wear a mask because of health concerns. Here are the exceptions to the original mask order:

      1. If you have trouble breathing or are unable to remove the mask without help

      2. If your health conditions prohibit wearing a face covering

      3. If you’re communicating with a hearing-impaired person, needing your mouth to be visible

      Guess what? Everybody has trouble breathing in a damn mask. What’s a business owner meant to do? Demand to see their customers’ medical records if they claim that wearing a mask makes it hard for them to breathe?

      Sorry but Northam has been an embarrassment to the state from the day he was inaugurated and will remain an embarrassment until the blessed day when he finally leaves office.

      • Northam is the governor that Virginia deserves. He is not the problem. He is the symptom of the problem.

        It’s NOT the politicians that make or break a place; it’s the people.

        Northam goes away, and another just like him will pop up and get elected.

        Because this is Virginia, and this is how we roll here.

        Don’t like it? Move. Nothing here you can’t get anywhere else.

    • “I still look at Northam compared to other Governors. Holding him “accountable” for sins that are fairly universal with other governors is not really great.”

      The old “everybody else is doing it” defense. Nice.

      • no. To be FAIR – if Northam is dealing with the same issues as other Governors – then it’s way more than just a Northam issue.

        Those who want to make it a Northam issue are more interesting in going after Northam than the issue itself.

  5. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Northam’s four year term was supposed to be “a three hour tour, a three hour tour”. But then the weather started getting rough the tiny ship was tossed. Their still here for while he will have to make the best of things. It’s an uphill climb. So join us each week my friends your sure to get a smile here on Northam’s Isle.

    • On the other hand, on a small island with insufficient resources to repair a boat, under the skipper’s able leadership, they were able to build non-fossil fuel automobiles and power generation plants, golf courses, pool tables and roulette wheels, telescopes, etc.

  6. Yepper – all kinds of seemingly impossible things are more than doable in LA LA LAND! Reality can be whatever you choose it to be!

  7. Even if one agrees with Mr. Kenney’s points, which I do not, one important point is being ignored. If Northam is so bad, where’s the GOP candidate to replace him? Amanda Chase? Are you serious? The fact is, the Virginia GOP is in extreme disarray. It hasn’t won a statewide office in what? A decade? Its last governor was Bob McDonnell who brought the Old Dominion international shame. Denver Riggleman was dumped by the homophobes in his district. So where the hell is the GOP?
    Also, who exactly are the BLM and antifa people who should be rounded up?
    One reason Northam gets so bashed at BR is that he has successfully brought policies that take the state into the 21st Century. Badly needed.

    • I can’t argue with you there.

      The dumpster fire that is the Republican Party of Virginia couldn’t pour water out of a bucket if the instructions were printed on the bottom.

      • and yet – they can’t stop talking about how bad Northam is.

        WHERE is their “better” guy/gal?

        They’d be a lot more credible if they actually had a better plan.

        Northam is Governor because of the failure of RPV .. plain and simple

        • “Northam is Governor because of the failure of RPV .. plain and simple”

          Yes. And in much the same way, Donald Trump is president because of the U.S. Democrat Party.

  8. EXACTLY Peter! The absolute worst thing about Northam is the biggest critics who also happen to be Republicans who also happen to be grossly unable to put up a single qualified candidate for governor who voters would pick over Northam.

    Pot. Kettle. Black to the max!

    Isn’t it rich that GOP operatives like Kenney are on their high horse about Northam when the candidates they bring forth make Northam look like a hero.

    One moderate GOP candidate would have knocked off Northam – but the RPV is apparently incapable of even a modicum of leadership.

    • The RPV is also apparently incapable of updating their website in a timely manner.

      But why pick on the RPV? It’s run just about as well as anything else in Virginia tends to be.

  9. It seems to me that we are wasting so much time arguing over which side (left or right) is more righteous/moral/intelligent/etc, that we have little capacity left with which to debate the actual problems. What does that get us? It appears that some keyboard warriors get their jollies by sparing with their opponents just for fun. Others are so closed minded that they believe the other team is evil and wrong, and “By God I have to show them”. This excessive tribalism is one of the maladies of our society that offered up Clinton and Trump in 2016, and Biden and Trump in 2020.

    Is anyone tired of this crap yet?

    • “is anyone tired of this crap yet?”

      Yes, what I liked about Shaun Kenney’s post was his effort in his post to transcend name calling and endless blame games.

      At the same time I agree with every one of djrippert’s stated “problems” with Governor Northam that he listed above, all relevant as the Governors past is prologue (best guide) to his and his crew’s future, so relevant to it. That said endless name calling, endless blame games, and closed minded invective gets us nowhere.

    • You mean Shaun Kenney’s pedestrian anti-Northam post?

      It’s ironic coming from a Republican given the kind of candidates they have run in Virginia.

      One ordinary, normal, moderate Conservative could win Virginia but nope – they gotta run wackadoodles… so we end up with Northams…. but of course Shaun don’t want to talk about that – just how awful Northam is.

      When I hear Shaun talk about how the GOP would run Virginia – and it’s reasonable – then I’ll rethink….

      but “anti-Northam” posts coming from the feckless GOP is at best – warm bat crap!

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