Ralph Shearer Northam, sworn in at noon Saturday as Virginia’s 73rd governor, has hit the ground running, having already signed three executive orders — including one that prohibits discrimination — before his first day on the job.
Northam, 58, who served as the 40th lieutenant governor of Virginia, brought together some 4,000 well-wishers amid the bitter cold for his inauguration at Capitol Square in Richmond, where he delivered an energetic 20-minute message of unity that called for Virginians to find their “moral compass” in taking on the state’s challenges. In doing so, Northam appeared to allude to the almost-daily distractions surrounding the nation’s seat of power.
“Virginia and this country need that more than ever these days,” said Northam, a Norfolk native and Virginia Military Institute alumnus. “It can be hard to find our way in a time when there’s so much shouting, when nasty, shallow tweets take the place of honest debate, and when scoring political points gets in the way of dealing with real problems.
“If you’ve felt that way, I want you to listen to me right now: We are bigger than this,” he said. “We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts. And it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do.”
Northam credited the administration of predecessor Terry McAuliffe with creating 200,000 new jobs, restoring the voting rights of 173,000 citizens, serving free breakfasts to 10 million school-age children and ending homelessness in the state among veterans.
As Northam begins his four-year tenure in the wake of the racial violence that occurred last year in Charlottesville, he acknowledged having a lot to delve into.
His reference to immediate focus on Medicaid expansions for about 400,000 Virginians and stricter gun laws, drew an instantaneous round of applause.
Northam, who said he will on focus on bipartisan projects specifically aimed at inclusivity and diversity, noted that he has already appointed more women to his racially-diverse cabinet than any of his predecessors.
In addition, Northam, a pediatrician who along with his wife list as a staunch advocates of early childhood education, vowed to make a notable difference in the state’s governance.
“I will always tell the truth and strive every day to maintain trust,” Northam said. “We will leave this place better than we found it. That’s the Virginia way.”
Goochland resident Arthur Connor, who braved a long line in the blustery weather after the inauguration to attend the open house at the governor’s mansion, said he believed that by working together, Virginians will move past troubling times.
“I see exciting progress for the state,” said Connor, 47 who said his family would benefit from Medicaid expansions. “Anything extra will help being that I’m the sole breadwinner right now for my family. I voted for Northam because I believe he will do what he said.”
Wynetta Day, who grew up in Northern Virginia, echoed Connor’s sentiments as she waited to get into the mansion.
“This has been an exciting time in history because both our parents still live here and over the years, we’ve made it something of a family tradition attending the inaugurations,” said Day, 51, who traveled “home” from Massachusetts with her husband for the inauguration. “This is not just about one party, but the willingness of people on both sides to work together, and I think the new governor can be a significant game changer in the way politics play out in Virginia.”