RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has just a few days left in his term. On Wednesday evening, he addressed the commonwealth as a whole for the last time.
Northam’s final State of the Commonwealth Address started at 7 p.m. and will be streamed live.
Northam’s address came on the first day of the 2022 General Assembly session, and just days ahead of Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin’s inauguration on Saturday, January 15. Youngkin, Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares completed a GOP sweep in statewide races in November, and Republicans also gained control of the House of Delegates.
According to a spokesperson for the governor, the theme of Northam’s speech Wednesday was “Taking care of one another: Honoring historic progress and a challenge to continue this work.”
During his speech, Northam highlighted the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, the state’s economic growth, criminal justice reform, ballot box access expansion and the response to COVID-19.
During Northam’s addresses to the commonwealth, he discussed some of the things that impacted his policies prior to taking office.
For instance, the governor shared the memory of working with a family that was distraught over trying to pay for medical bills associated with their child’s cerebral palsy, seizures, and cystic fibrosis.
He said, “That experience convinced me that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. No father should have to worry that he can’t afford to take care of his child. I ran for office to help that man and others like him.”
He also talked about working with a family whose 3-year-old accidentally shot and killed themselves with a loaded gun found in the home.
“I ran for office to help ensure that more families won’t have to endure that kind of pain,” he stated in the speech.
The governor’s speech touched on many topics that his administration focused on the last four years, including increasing understanding of Virginia’s history, climate change and fair elections.
During the address, Northam talked about Virginia’s economy and how the state appeals to businesses. During his term, Virginia was voted best state for business multiple times. Some of the most recent companies to invest in Virginia include Amazon, Micron and Blue Star.
The commonwealth is working toward becoming a better place for workers as well. Virginia’s minimum wage has been raised to $11 an hour and by 2026 it will be $15 an hour.
“When you treat workers and their families right, it helps everyone,” Northam said.
He talked about efforts to improve education term, including major HBCU investments and the G3 program which makes community college free for low- and moderate-income students training in high-need areas.
For the governor’s youngest constituents, Northam focused on increasing investments for early childhood education and K-12 education. During his speech, the governor said teachers’ salaries have gone up more than 10%. Northam’s wife Pamela Northam played a big role in increasing early childhood education access.
Northam’s term was rocked by the blackface scandal and coincided with a national reckoning with systemic racism. Part of the governor’s address focused on changes made to help Virginia become a place that “reckons with its past.”
“As someone who works with children, I know that hatred, bigotry, and discrimination are not things we are born with. They are things we learn. And that means inclusion is also something we can learn,” Northam said.
One huge change made to Virginia law during Northam’s term was the abolition of the death penalty. He talked about that change during the address saying the system was applied unfairly and resulted in racially motivated decisions. Such as when, seven Black men were convicted of rape and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Martinsville.
The election in which Northam was elected and the 2021 election where Youngkin was elected looked different for voters. During Northam’s administration, Democrats made voting easier for many Virginians. The governor mentioned the expansion of early voting, automatic voter registration through the DMV and making Election Day a state holiday.
During the speech, Northam looked back on where he started as governor.
The speech reads, “It has been a more tumultuous four years than I think any of us expected. But the challenges have also been opportunities.”
Northam stated that he can “confidently say” that his administration has strived to make Virginia better for the people in it, “no matter who they are or where they live.”
“We have built a state that helps people who need it—whether they need health care, or cleaner water, or to keep a roof over their head during a global pandemic,” Northam said.
Looking forward Northam said he wishes the best for Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin. The new governor will address the commonwealth next week after his inauguration on Saturday.
“I’m confident he will lead this Commonwealth well,” Northam said. “When he succeeds, Virginia succeeds.”
Northam said in its current state, Virginia is a strong and healthy state that “treats everyone right, takes care of people when they need it, and provides opportunity for everyone to thrive.”
When his term ends at midnight Friday, Northam won’t have much of a break. He says he’ll return to working as a pediatric neurologist in Norfolk starting on Monday, January 21.
He also received his official gubernatorial portrait this week.
Republican lawmakers Del. Tara Durant (R-Stafford) and Sen. Todd Pillion (R-Washington County) gave remarks after Northam’s address.
Pillion said the 2021 election indicated Virginians wanted to move in a different direction.
“During last year’s campaign and in the days since his election, Governor-Elect Youngkin has signaled a change not only in policy, but in perspective and tone, as well,” Pillion said “His emphasis will be on unity, bringing Virginians together by advancing initiatives that will lower your cost of living, create jobs by improving our business climate, and make our streets and neighborhoods safer.”
Durant touched on what Republicans hope to accomplish during the 2022 General Assembly. She said they hope to increase investments in education, increase public safety, handle inflation, change the Parole Board and cut taxes.