Ralph Northam

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Ralph Northam
Governor Ralph Northam Gives Inaugural Address (39348612584) (cropped).jpg
73rd Governor of Virginia
Assumed office
January 13, 2018
LieutenantJustin Fairfax
Preceded byTerry McAuliffe
40th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 11, 2014 – January 13, 2018
GovernorTerry McAuliffe
Preceded byBill Bolling
Succeeded byJustin Fairfax
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 6th district
In office
January 9, 2008 – January 11, 2014
Preceded byNick Rerras
Succeeded byLynwood Lewis
Personal details
Ralph Shearer Northam

(1959-09-13) September 13, 1959 (age 59)
Nassawadox, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Pamela Northam (m. 1987)
ResidenceExecutive Mansion
EducationVirginia Military Institute (BS)
Eastern Virginia Medical School (MD)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1984–1992
RankUS Army O4 shoulderboard rotated.svg Major
UnitMedical Corps

Ralph Shearer Northam (born September 13, 1959) is an American politician and physician serving as the 73rd and current Governor of Virginia since January 13, 2018.[1] A physician by occupation, he was a member of the Medical Corps from 1984 to 1992. Northam served as the 40th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018 prior to winning the governorship against Republican nominee Ed Gillespie in the 2017 election.[2]

Early life, family history, and education[edit]

Northam was born in Nassawadox, Virginia, on September 13, 1959.[3][4] He and his older brother of two years, Thomas, were raised on a water-side farm, just outside Onancock, Virginia.[5] The family grew a variety of crops and tended livestock on the farm (a seventy-five acre property).[6] As a teenager, Northam worked on a ferry to Tangier Island and as a deckhand on fishing charters; he also worked on a neighbor's farm and as a "stock boy" at Meatland grocery store.[7][5][8] He and Thomas attended desegregated public schools.[5][9] Northam graduated from Onancock High School, where his class was predominately African American.[10]

Northam's mother, Nancy B. Shearer, originally hailed from Washington D.C. She was a part-time nurse at Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital, and her father was a surgeon.[11][12][7] Nancy Shearer died in 2009.[7] Northam's father, Wescott B. Northam, was a lawyer and veteran of World War II; he entered politics in the 1960s, serving three terms as Commonwealth's Attorney for Accomack County, Virginia. After losing election to a fourth term, Wescott Northam was appointed as a Circuit Court judge for Accomack and Northampton counties.[11][12][7][5] Wescott Northam's own father, Thomas Long Northam, had served as a judge in the same court.[7]

Thomas Long Northam died when Wescott Northam was only fourteen, and a few years later, the family farm in Modest Town, Virginia, where Wescott had been born, was sold.[5][9] The farm had first come into the family through Ralph Northam's great-great-grandfather, James, who along with his son, Levi Jacob, had owned slaves - one of whom, Raymond Northam, was freed to enlist in the 9th Regiment of Colored Troops. Ralph Northam was unaware of his family's slave-owning history until his father conducted research into their ancestry during the time of Northam's gubernatorial campaign.[9]

In high school, Northam was voted "Most Likely to Succeed"[10] and graduated as salutatorian.[13] He was a member of his school's basketball and baseball teams.[7][10] Northam graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1981, where he served as president of VMI's honor court and received a bachelor's degree in biology.[14][15][16] He went on to Eastern Virginia Medical School, earning his M.D. degree in 1984.[14]

Army and medical career[edit]

From 1984 to 1992 he served as a United States Army medical officer. During his Army service, he completed a pediatric residency at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, followed by a child neurology fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. and Johns Hopkins Hospital.[17] During Operation Desert Storm, he treated evacuated casualties at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Northam left the U.S. Army in 1992 at the rank of major, having completed eight years of service.[18] Since 1992,[19] Northam has been a pediatric neurologist at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia.[20]

Political career[edit]

Prior to entering politics, Northam voted for Republican George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, a fact that opponents raised in later Democratic primaries.[21][22] Northam says that he was apolitical at the time and regretted those votes,[22] saying: "Politically, there was no question, I was underinformed."[13]

Virginia State Senate[edit]

Northam in 2008

Northam first ran for office in 2007 in the Virginia 6th Senate district, which includes the Eastern Shore of Virginia; Mathews County, on the Middle Peninsula; and parts of the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.[8] He was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. On November 6, 2007, he defeated Nick Rerras, a two-term Republican incumbent, 17,307 votes to 14,499.[23]

He was re-elected in November 2011, defeating Ben Loyola Jr., a defense contractor, 16,606 votes to 12,622.[24]

One of Northam's first major activities as a state legislator was to lead an effort to pass a ban on smoking in restaurants in Virginia. The bill failed the first time, but it passed the next year and Governor Tim Kaine signed it into law.[25][26]

In 2009, Northam—a self-described "conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues"[27]—was the subject of an attempt by state Senate Republicans to get him to switch parties.[28] This action would have given Republicans control of the State Senate, but after news of the imminent switch broke on Twitter, Democrats held a closed-door meeting, and Northam reiterated that he was not leaving the party.[29] He later said, "I guess it's nice to be wanted, but I'm a Democrat, and that's where I'm staying."[30]

Lieutenant Governor of Virginia[edit]

Northam ran for lieutenant governor as Terry McAuliffe's running mate.

Northam ran for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia in the 2013 election.[31] Northam competed against U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra for the Democratic nomination.[32] On June 11, 2013, Northam won the Democratic primary over Chopra with 54% of the vote to Chopra's 46%.[33][34]

On November 5, 2013, Northam was elected as Virginia's 40th Lieutenant Governor over Republican E. W. Jackson by a 10% margin, receiving 55% of the vote to Jackson's 45%.[35] Northam was the first Democrat since Tim Kaine in 2001 to be elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

2017 gubernatorial election[edit]

In February 2015, just over a year into his term as lieutenant governor, Northam confirmed his interest in running for Governor of Virginia in 2017.[36][37] He made these intentions official on November 17, 2015, via an email to supporters.[38]

Northam faced former congressman Tom Perriello in the Democratic primary. The primary campaign was often described as a proxy battle between the Bernie Sanders / Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party, represented by Perriello, and the Hillary Clinton wing, represented by Northam.[39] On June 13, 2017, Northam won the Democratic nomination with 56% of the vote to Perriello's 44%.[40] He faced Republican nominee Ed Gillespie in the general election.

Northam's campaign funds were heavily depleted by the end of the primary race. He was left with around $1.75 million, which amounted to roughly half of Gillespie's remaining funds.[41] Northam quickly gained the advantage however - by the end of the summer, his available funds had grown twice as large as Gillespie's, with two months left in the campaign. Northam led Gillespie among small donors, as well: "5,900 donations under $100 to Gillespie's 2,100."[42]

In October 2017, the Northam campaign released a small number of flyers omitting Northam's running-mate for Lieutenant Governor, Justin Fairfax. These were released at the request of Laborers' International Union of North America, which had endorsed Northam (as well as Northam's running mate for Attorney General, Mark Herring, who was also included on the flyer), but not Fairfax. LIUNA explained that Fairfax opposes the construction of natural gas pipelines that are favored by the organization. As Fairfax is black, while Northam and Herring are both white, some activists criticized the decision to accommodate LIUNA's request. All houses that received the LIUNA flyers also received standard campaign flyers including Fairfax.[43][44]

During the campaign, Gillespie and President Donald Trump accused Northam of being responsible for the increased activities of the MS-13 gangs and of being "in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the streets."[45][46] Gillespie and Trump said that Northam had been the deciding vote to stop a Republican bill in the state Senate which would have banned sanctuary cities and that this contributed to the surge in MS-13 violence; a notion that FactCheck.org found to be "misleading".[45] The Washington Post and CNN noted that there are no actual sanctuary cities in Virginia.[46][47] Gillespie himself acknowledged that Virginia did not have sanctuary cities.[46] The Washington Post furthermore noted that there is no evidence that sanctuary cities increase crime or gang activity,[48] and that Virginia communities with higher immigrant populations have lower crime rates.[49]

Later that month, the Latino Victory Fund, which supports Northam, released an ad in which a pickup truck, adorned with a Gillespie bumper sticker, a "Don't tread on me" license plate, and a Confederate flag, chases down minority children and corners them in an alley—one of the children in the ad then wakes up, revealing the scene to have been a nightmare.[50][51] Although Northam and his campaign were not involved with the ad, Northam initially defended it, saying Gillespie's own ads "have promoted fearmongering, hatred, bigotry, racial divisiveness," and adding, "I mean, it's upset a lot of communities, and they have the right to express their views as well."[52] The ad was pulled the following day in the hours after the terrorist attack in New York City, in which a man killed several people by running them over with a truck.[52][53] Northam then distanced himself from the ad, re-emphasizing that it was not released by his campaign and saying that it is not one that he would have chosen to run.[54] A spokesman for the campaign said that the Latino Victory Fund's decision to pull the ad was "appropriate and the right thing to do."[52] FOX 5 DC reported that the Northam campaign had accepted $62,000 as an in-kind media contribution from the Latino Victory Fund.[55]

In the final week of the campaign, Northam stated that he would as governor sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia similar to a bill he had voted against in the state Senate earlier in 2017.[56] In response, the progressive group Democracy for America stated that it stopped direct aid of Northam's campaign.[57] Howard Dean, who founded Democracy for America, but left the organization in 2016, wrote on Twitter that the organization had discredited itself and called its decision to stop aiding Northam's campaign "incredibly stupid".[58] Democracy for America had already stopped collecting data for Northam and had ceased mentioning him in get-out-the-vote calls due to his campaign's decision to remove Justin Fairfax from certain campaign fliers.[59][60]

Northam meeting with volunteers in Blacksburg, VA (2017).

Northam held campaign rallies with former President Barack Obama[61] and former Vice President Joe Biden during the general election campaign.[62]

According to the Washington Post, Northam owns stock in several companies "doing extensive work in Virginia". Northam has stated that if elected governor, he would place his financial investments into a blind trust, so as to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.[63]

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, as of November 3, 2017, Northam has raised $33.8 million to Gillespie's $24.5 million.[64]

Northam was elected 73rd Governor of Virginia on November 7, 2017, defeating Ed Gillespie in the general election with a larger-than-expected nine-point margin of victory.[65]

Governor of Virginia[edit]

Northam was sworn in as Governor of Virginia at noon on January 13, 2018 at the State Capitol.[66] He became the second Eastern Shore native to serve as Governor of Virginia, after Henry A. Wise (who was elected in 1855)[7][66][67] and the second alumnus of Virginia Military Institute to serve as governor, after Westmoreland Davis (who was elected in 1917).[66] A majority of Northam's cabinet secretaries are female, a first in Virginia history.[68] Residents from every county in Virginia attended Northam's inauguration (which reportedly marked another first for the state)[69][70] and twenty-six groups participated in the inaugural parade, which has been called the largest and most diverse in state history.[70][71]

Political positions[edit]

The Washington Post described Northam as a moderate state senator who moved to the left on some issues during the 2017 gubernatorial Democratic primary, such as support for a $15 minimum wage and opposition to a state constitutional amendment enshrining right-to-work legislation.[72]


Northam supports abortion rights.[73] In the Virginia General Assembly, he opposed a bill to mandate vaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, and voted against the bill when it was revised to mandate only abdominal ultrasounds.[74] He was endorsed in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary by the abortion rights group NARAL and its Virginia affiliate.[75] Northam has argued for reducing abortion rates through education and expanding access to contraceptives.[73] Planned Parenthood pledged to spend $3 million supporting Northam in his 2017 general election campaign for governor.[76] Northam opposes banning abortions after 20 weeks through a state version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.[77]

Confederate monuments[edit]

On the controversies over public monuments to the Confederacy, in June 2017 Northam stated that the statues in the state Capitol that the General Assembly has jurisdiction over "should be taken down and moved into museums", and that the decision on other statues "belongs to local communities."[26] He has said that there should be more public memorials to historical Virginia civil rights leaders such as Barbara Rose Johns, Oliver Hill, and Samuel Wilbert Tucker.[26] In August 2017, Northam took a firmer stance, saying, "I believe these statues should be taken down and moved into museums. As governor, I am going to be a vocal advocate for that approach and work with localities on this issue."[78] According to the Washington Post, Northam later reverted to his original stance that decisions on the monuments should be made locally.[79][80]

Criminal justice[edit]

During Virginia's 2017 gubernatorial campaign, both Northam and his opponent, Ed Gillespie, called for the state's felony threshold on theft to be raised, which at $200, was then-tied for lowest-in-the-nation with New Jersey.[81][82] Set in 1980, the threshold's value, when adjusted for inflation, would have been equal to around $600 in 2017.[83] Outgoing governor, Terry McAuliffe, had attempted, during his final year in office, to raise the threshold to $500, but was unable to advance such a proposal through the legislature.[84][85] Both McAuliffe and Northam supported raising the threshold even further to $1,000,[82] which would have been more closely aligned with those found in a majority of other states,[83] while Gillespie approved of a $500 threshold.[86] Following Northam's election to the governship, the Washington Post identified this issue as an opportunity for bipartisan legislation.[87]

In early February 2018, about a month after his inauguration as governor, Northam struck a deal with the Republican-controlled legislature to raise the felony threshold to $500; in exchange, Northam gave support to Republican-sponsored legislation that would require criminal defendants seeking parole to first pay full restitution to victims.[83][88] McAuliffe had vetoed a comparable restitution bill the previous year. The Washington Post's editorial board called Northam's compromise "a small step toward fairer justice in Virginia", but voiced concern that the restitution bill would place an onerous burden on poor defendants; they also noted that the $500 threshold is still one of the country's lowest and still under the amount that it would be if it had kept pace with inflation since 1980.[88]

In June 2018, a class action lawsuit was publicly disclosed, which had been filed the previous October - it claimed that teenage detainees at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center had been physically abused by staff members there. Several of the plaintiffs were being held at the facility on immigration charges. The abuse described in the lawsuit was alleged to have occurred from 2015 through 2018. The Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center denied all of the claims in the lawsuit, while Northam called the allegations "disturbing" and directed state agencies to conduct an investigation.[89][90] Around two months later, the investigation concluded with no findings of ongoing abuse. Allegations of past abuse were not included within the scope of the investigation and the lawsuit is still pending.[91]

Death penalty[edit]

Ralph Northam is opposed to the death penalty.[92]


Northam has proposed an increase in Virginia's minimum wage from its current level, $7.25 an hour, to $15 an hour.[26] During his 2017 campaign for governor, Northam was endorsed by the Laborers' International Union of North America; the union praised Northam for his opposition to a "right-to-work" amendment to the Virginia state constitution.[93] Northam criticized the repeal of the car tax under former Governor Jim Gilmore because of its impact on both K-12 and higher education, saying Virginia still has not recovered.[94]

Northam "has called for phasing out the grocery tax on low-income people and ending business taxes in struggling rural areas."[95] He has called for a bipartisan reform commission to make recommendations on state tax policy.[95][63]


Northam has proposed making it free for students to pursue a community college education or apprenticeship in a high-demand field (such as cybersecurity and early-childhood education) under the condition that they commit to a year of paid public service.[63]

Northam opposes public funding for private schools.[63]

Environment and energy[edit]

Northam accepts the scientific consensus on climate change and as a candidate for governor vowed to lead efforts to fight climate change. He has pledged, if elected, to bring Virginia into the United States Climate Alliance, a multi-state agreement to uphold greenhouse gas emissions standards.[96] Northam has emphasized the negative effects of climate change-induced sea level rise on Virginia's Tidewater region.[26][96]

During his 2017 campaign for governor, Northam pledged if elected to continue implementing the total maximum daily load limits for nitrogen and phosphorus discharges into Chesapeake Bay, a policy that had reduced harmful algal blooms. Northam said he would continue this policy even if the federal government under Donald Trump cut or eliminated funding for the program. During his campaign, Northam was endorsed by the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Virginia Sierra Club.[97]

Northam has offered conditional support for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, provided that the pipeline's construction is deemed to be environmentally safe.[98][99] He has avoided taking a firm stance on other pipelines such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.[100] He opposes both offshore drilling and fracking.[98]

Family leave[edit]

When Northam was inaugurated as governor, the family leave policy for executive branch employees in the state of Virginia exclusively applied to employees who had given birth and only offered partial pay. In June 2018, Northam signed an executive order extending the policy, so that it applies to both mothers and fathers, including not only biological parents, but also adoptive and foster parents. Under the new policy, employees receive eight weeks off at full pay. A similar policy, offering twelve weeks of paid leave, was established for legislative branch employees earlier in the year.[101]


According to the Washington Post, Northam favors the "reinstatement of Virginia's 'one-gun-a-month' law limiting purchases, as well as a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons."[63]

Health care[edit]

Northam supports the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), although he has argued that it is in need of improvement.[98][102] After Republican attempts to repeal the law, he called for members of Congress to "put a stop to the uncertainty and work on stabilizing and building on the Affordable Care Act's progress."[103]

He opposes a single-payer healthcare system in Virginia, preferring that such a plan would be run by the federal government, but supports the creation of a state-run public health insurance option.[63]

On June 7, 2018, Northam signed a bipartisan bill expanding Medicaid in Virginia.[104] This fulfilled one of his central campaign promises.[105][106] Northam's gubernatorial predecessor Terry McAuliffe had tried throughout all four years of his own term in office to enact Medicaid expansion, but McAuliffe was never able to secure enough support from Republicans, who controlled the state legislature at the time.[107][108] Following the 2017 election, which brought significant gains for Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates, Republicans still held a narrow legislative majority; during this time however, opposition to Medicaid expansion diminished among Republicans, several of whom were willing to crossover in support of the bill.[104] Once the bill is enacted on January 1, 2019,[109] Virginia will become the 33rd state to expand Medicaid,[106][110] and the first to do so since Louisiana in 2016.[111][112] Enrollment in the expanded program will begin on November 1, 2018.[113]


In his 2007 campaign for state Senate, Northam "advocated for Virginia being 'even more stringent than we are now in fighting illegal immigration,' and said the state should act as 'strong partners' with federal law enforcement."[114] Northam's rhetoric shifted in his 2017 gubernatorial campaign.[114] In 2017 Northam pledged to "stand up against ICE" so that "people, especially immigrants, in Virginia aren't living in fear," saying: "Something that we are very proud of in Virginia is that we are inclusive." He continued by saying "We will do everything we can to make sure immigrants are comfortable living here."[73] Northam opposed President Trump's decision to rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which offered temporary stay for unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as minors.[115] Northam said Trump's "decision lacks compassion, lacks moral sense, and lacks economic sense."[115] Northam supports granting state driver's licenses and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.[114]

In February 2017, Northam cast a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate against a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia.[56] Northam said he was "proud to break a tie when Republicans tried to scapegoat immigrants for political gain" and that he was "glad to put a stop to" the bill.[116] In an October 2017 debate, Northam said he did not support sanctuary cities, stating that there currently were none in Virginia, but Northam declined to say whether he would sign a bill as governor that was similar to the one he voted against in the Senate.[117] In November 2017, Northam clarified that while he would veto any bill pre-emptively banning sanctuary cities in Virginia, he would support a ban, if sanctuary cities began appearing in the state.[56] In April 2018, as governor, Northam vetoed a law that would have pre-emptively banned sanctuary cities in Virginia.[118]


Northam favors decriminalizing marijuana.[63]


During his 2017 campaign for governor, Northam has said that if elected, he will only approve a map of new Virginia legislative and congressional boundaries in the post-2020 redistricting that is drawn by a nonpartisan commission.[119]

Donald Trump[edit]

In a political commercial called "Listening," run during the Virginia Democratic primary, Northam described the importance to him of listening—as a doctor, to his patients and as lieutenant governor, to his constituents. He ended with, "I've been listening carefully to Donald Trump, and I think he's a narcissistic maniac."[120] As the general election drew near Northam said, "[I]f Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I'll work with him."[121] Northam explained the "softer tone": "I think people already know [their opinions of Trump] and they are judging for themselves. What we are talking about as we move forward are the policies that are coming out of Washington that are so detrimental to Virginia".[121]

Personal life[edit]

Northam lives in the Executive Mansion in Richmond. He and his wife Pam have two children, Wes and Aubrey.[122] His brother, Thomas Northam, is a lawyer,[5] and the law partner of Virginia State Senate member Lynwood Lewis, who was elected to the State Senate to replace Northam when he resigned his State Senate seat to assume the position of lieutenant governor. His father, Wescott Northam, is a retired Accomack County judge, former Commonwealth's Attorney, and Navy veteran.[123]

Northam serves as the vice chair of the Fort Monroe Authority, which oversees Fort Monroe, a Civil War historic site where Union General Benjamin Butler sheltered freed slaves.[124] In his free time, Northam enjoys working on classic cars.[125] He owns a 1953 Oldsmobile and a 1971 Corvette.[126]

Northam is a recreational runner and a competitor in races including the Richmond Road Runners' First Day 5k and the Monument Avenue 10K race.[127]

Electoral history[edit]

Virginia State Senate 6th district election, 2007[128]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ralph Northam 17,307 54.33% +16.1
Republican Nick Rerras 14,499 45.52% -16.2
Write-ins 45 0.14% +0.09
Majority 2,808 8.81% -14.69
Total votes 31,851 100.0%
Virginia State Senate 6th district election, 2011[129]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ralph Northam 16,606 56.75% +2.42
Republican Benito Loyola Jr. 12,622 43.13% -3.39
Write-ins 31 0.11% -0.03
Majority 3,984 13.62% +4.81
Total votes 29,259 100.0%
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Democratic primary, 2013[130]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ralph Northam 78,476 54.18%
Democratic Aneesh Chopra 66,380 45.82%
Majority 12,096 8.35%
Total votes 144,856 100.0%
Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial election, 2013[131]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ralph Northam 1,213,155 55.12% +11.72
Republican E. W. Jackson 980,257 44.54% -11.97
Write-ins 7,472 0.34% +0.26
Majority 232,898 10.58%
Total votes 2,200,884 100.0%
Virginia Governor Democratic primary election, 2017[132]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ralph Northam 303,399 55.91%
Democratic Tom Perriello 239,216 44.09%
Majority 64,183 11.82%
Total votes 542,615 100.0%
Virginia gubernatorial election, 2017
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ralph Northam 1,405,175 53.89%
Republican Ed Gillespie 1,173,209 44.99%
Libertarian Cliff Hyra 27,964 1.07%
Majority 231,966 8.90%
Total votes 2,607,725 100.0%


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  76. ^ Va. arm of Planned Parenthood to spend $3 million backing Northam for governor (Washington Post)
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External links[edit]

Senate of Virginia
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