Ralph Northam

Ralph Shearer Northam (born September 13, 1959) is an American politician and physician serving as the 73rd Governor of Virginia since January 13, 2018.[1] A pediatric neurologist by occupation, he was an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1984 to 1992. Northam, a member of the Democratic Party, 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]

Ralph Northam
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
Nassawadox, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Pam Northam (m. 1987)
ResidenceExecutive Mansion
EducationVirginia Military Institute (BS)
Eastern Virginia Medical School (MD)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1984–1992
Rank Major
UnitArmy Medical Corps

Early life, family history, and education

Northam was born in the town of Nassawadox on Virginia's Eastern Shore 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 their seventy-five-acre (30 ha) 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.[5][7][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, was originally from Washington, D.C. She was a part-time nurse at Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital, and her father was a surgeon.[7][11][12] Nancy Shearer died in 2009.[7] Northam's father, Wescott B. Northam, served as a lawyer and is a 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.[5][7][11][12] 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 (Union Army, Civil War). 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]

U.S. Army and medical career

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 in Baltimore, Maryland.[17] During Operation Desert Storm, he treated evacuated casualties at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Northam was discharged from the U.S. Army in 1992 at the rank of major, after 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]

Early political career

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]

Senate of Virginia (2008–2014)

Northam first ran for office in 2007 in the 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 (2014–2018)

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, 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.

Governor of Virginia (2018–present)


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]

In the Democratic primary, Northam faced Tom Perriello, who had previously served as a Congressman from Virginia and as a diplomat in the Obama administration.[39][40] 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] although this take was dismissed as little more than a "talking point" by The Washington Post's editorial board, which praised both candidates and wrote, "the policy differences between the two, though real, are not enormous".[41] The Washington Post endorsed Northam primarily on the basis of his "experience" and "temperament".[41] In its endorsement, the publication explained that the next governor would likely have to work with a Republican-controlled legislature and wrote,

"If any Democratic governor can nudge GOP majorities in his direction, it’s Mr. Northam. That matters in a state where governors, barred from running for consecutive terms, have one brief shot at getting things done."[41]

On June 13, 2017, Northam won the Democratic nomination with 56% of the vote to Perriello's 44%.[42] In the general election, Northam faced Ed Gillespie, who had previously served as Counselor to the President under George W. Bush, chair of the Republican National Committee, and chair of the Republican Party of Virginia.[43][44] 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.[45] 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."[46]

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 only part of that year's Democratic ticket. Northam and that year's Democratic nominee for Attorney General, Mark Herring, were both endorsed by LIUNA and were both included on the flyer. LIUNA withheld its endorsement from Fairfax and 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.[47][48]

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."[49][50] 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".[49] The Washington Post and CNN noted that there are no actual sanctuary cities in Virginia.[50][51] Gillespie himself acknowledged that Virginia did not have sanctuary cities.[50] The Washington Post furthermore noted that there is no evidence that sanctuary cities increase crime or gang activity,[52] and that Virginia communities with higher immigrant populations have lower crime rates.[53]

Later that month, the Latino Victory Fund, which was supporting Northam's campaign, 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.[54][55] 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."[56] 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.[56][57] 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.[58] 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."[56] FOX 5 DC reported that the Northam campaign had accepted $62,000 as an in-kind media contribution from the Latino Victory Fund.[59]

During the final week of the campaign, Northam stated that he would continue opposing a preemptive ban on sanctuary cities in Virginia, as he had done while serving in the lieutenant governor position, although he also stated that if any sanctuary cities emerged in Virginia, he would support banning them.[60] In response, the progressive group Democracy for America stated that it stopped direct aid of Northam's campaign.[61] 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".[62] Democracy for America had already stopped collecting data for Northam and had ceased mentioning him in get-out-the-vote calls, due to the Northam campaign's decision to release LiUNA's flyers omitting Justin Fairfax.[63][64]

Northam held campaign rallies with former President Barack Obama[65] and former Vice President Joe Biden during the general election campaign.[66]

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.[67]

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, as of November 3, 2017, Northam has raised $33.8 million to Gillespie's $24.5 million.[68]

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.[69]


Northam was sworn in as Governor of Virginia at noon on January 13, 2018 at the State Capitol.[70] He became the second Eastern Shore native to serve as Governor of Virginia, after Henry A. Wise (who was elected in 1855)[7][70][71] and the second alumnus of Virginia Military Institute to serve as governor, after Westmoreland Davis (who was elected in 1917).[70] A majority of Northam's cabinet secretaries are female, a first in Virginia history.[72] Residents from every county in Virginia attended Northam's inauguration (which reportedly marked another first for the state)[73][74] and twenty-six groups participated in the inaugural parade, which has been called the largest and most diverse in state history.[74][75]

Response to Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center lawsuit

In June 2018, six months into Northam's governorship, a class action lawsuit was publicly disclosed, which had been filed the previous October, claiming that Latino teenage detainees at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center had been physically abused by staff members there. Most 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 claims in the lawsuit, while Northam called the allegations "disturbing" and directed state agencies to conduct an investigation.[76][77] 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. Northam urged the facility to adopt new practices, including additional training for staff members, recommended by the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice.[78] As youth held in Virginia facilities on immigration charges are there through outside contacts with the federal government, the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice lacked oversight of these youth when the investigation began. In September of that year, the department expanded its authority to include oversight of youth held through any outside contract in Virginia facilities.[79][80]

Yearbook controversies

On February 1, 2019, images from Northam's medical school yearbook were published on the far-right website Big League Politics.[81][82][83] The photos showed an image of an unidentified person in blackface and an unidentified person in a Ku Klux Klan hood on Northam's page in the yearbook.[84][85][86] A spokesman for Eastern Virginia Medical School confirmed that the image appeared in its 1984 yearbook.[87] Shortly after the news broke, Northam apologized for appearing in the photo[87] and issued a statement saying,

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive. I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now. This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine, and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment. I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”[88][89][90]

Prior to issuing his apology, Northam had privately reacted in confusion to the photo and told several people that he did not believe that he was either of the men depicted in the photo.[91] Early that evening, he had also told Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax that although he had no recollection of the photo, he considered it a possibility that he was one of the two men depicted.[92][93] According to The Washington Post, "two people familiar with the events of that evening" said that Northam "decided to take the blame" for the photo due to the pressure on him to issue a statement, even though at the time, Northam was still confused about the photo's origins.[91]

Two days earlier on January 30, Northam had made controversial comments about abortion during a WTOP interview about the Repeal Act, where he stated that if a severely deformed or otherwise non-viable fetus was born after an unsuccessful abortion attempt, "the infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."[94] Conservative politicians and media figures characterized Northam's comments as promoting infanticide.[95] After the yearbook photo was publicized, many conservative media outlets compared the two controversies and described them as a "bad week" for the governor.[96][97] According to the Washington Post, the photo was sent as a tip to Big League Politics, the website that first published the photo on February 1, by one or more medical school classmates who were concerned about Northam's abortion comments.[82]

The Virginia Senate's Democratic leader, Dick Saslaw, was among the few politicians who initially defended Northam,[98] but later joined with the rest of his caucus in calling for Northam's resignation.[99] Most other prominent Virginia politicians, including former governor Terry McAuliffe, under whom Northam served as lieutenant governor,[100] the Speaker of the House of Delegates,[101] the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus,[102] senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner in a joint statement with Rep. Bobby Scott,[103] and both the Republican Party of Virginia and Democratic Party of Virginia, called on him to resign.[104][105][106] President Donald Trump decried the photo, as well as Northam's earlier comments on abortion, as "unforgivable".[107] Several prominent national Republicans, such as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Republican National Committee chair Ronna Romney McDaniel joined in calling for Northam's resignation.[108][109] Major national Democratic officials also called for Northam to step down, including 2020 presidential candidates Tulsi Gabbard, Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris,[110][111] House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Governors Association,[112][113] former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton,[114] Senator Bernie Sanders,[115] and former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.[116] Faced with increasing calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats, Northam reportedly considered leaving the Democratic Party and trying to hold on to the governorship as an independent.[117][118]

After issuing his apology and as pressure mounted for his resignation, Northam called friends and family to determine whether the photo actually depicts him.[119] The following morning, Northam told staffers that he was convinced he was not in the photo.[91] Sleep-deprived and ignoring the protests of some staffers, Northam held a press conference that afternoon,[91] in which he publicly denied that he was either of the men in the photo, but did admit to having "darkened [his] face" with shoe polish as part of a Michael Jackson costume around the same time.[120] Reaction to the press conference was intensely negative and calls for Northam's resignation continued.[91]

CBS News also unearthed Northam's Virginia Military Institute yearbook, which listed "Coonman", a racial slur, as one of Northam's nicknames; Northam told reporters that two people referred to him by that name, and said that he regretted the presence of the nickname in his yearbook.[121] Northam says that he does not understand why that nickname was bestowed on him.[122][123]

A months-long investigation into the photo that appeared in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook could not “conclusively” determine who is in the photo or even how the image ended up there. A team hired by EVMS released a 55-page report May 22, 2019, saying: “We could not conclusively determine the identity of either individual depicted in the photograph.” McGuireWoods contacted over 80 people connected to the school, including five members of their yearbook staff at the time.[124]


In October 2019, Northam announced that he had restored the voting rights of more than 22,000 felons who had completed their sentences.[125]

Political positions

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.[126]


Northam supports abortion rights.[127] 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.[128] He was endorsed in the 2017 Democratic gubernatorial primary by the abortion rights group NARAL and its Virginia affiliate.[129] Northam has argued for reducing abortion rates through education and expanding access to contraceptives.[127] Planned Parenthood pledged to spend $3 million supporting Northam in his 2017 general election campaign for governor.[130] Northam opposes banning abortions after 20 weeks through a state version of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.[131]

For third-trimester abortions, Northam supports Virginia's current law requiring certification by multiple physicians.[132][133][lower-alpha 1] During a January 2019 radio interview, Northam said that third-trimester abortions may be done in cases of a non-viable fetus or severe deformity. If a delivery occurred in such cases, Northam further stated that, "The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother."[132][135][136] This statement drew intense criticism from Republican politicians nationwide, many of whom accused Northam of supporting infanticide.[94][95][137][lower-alpha 2]

Confederate monuments

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."[138] Northam later reverted to his original stance that decisions on the monuments should be made locally.[139][140]

Criminal justice

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 with New Jersey for lowest in the nation.[141][142] Set in 1980, the threshold's value would have been equal to around $600 in 2017, if it had kept pace with inflation.[143] 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.[144][145] Both McAuliffe and Northam supported raising the threshold even further to $1,000,[142] which would have been more closely aligned with those found in a majority of other states,[143] while Gillespie approved of a $500 threshold.[146] Following Northam's election to the governorship, The Washington Post identified this issue as an opportunity for bipartisan legislation.[147]

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.[143][148] 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; the editorial board also noted that the $500 threshold is still one of the country's lowest and still, when adjusted for inflation, under the level that had been set in 1980.[148]

As governor, Northam signed into law a bill imposing a new mandatory minimum sentence for those who are convicted of murdering a police officer. Later during his term, in May 2019, he vowed against signing any further legislation imposing mandatory minimum sentences. In an op-ed for The Washington Post, he argued that such legislation is racially discriminatory and leads to over-incarceration.[149][150][151]

Death penalty

Ralph Northam opposes the death penalty.[152]


Northam supports increasing Virginia's minimum wage, which at $7.25 an hour, has not surpassed the federally mandated level set in 2009.[153][154] While serving as lieutenant governor in 2014, Northam broke a tie in the Virginia state Senate, passing a bill that would have increased the state's minimum wage by increments.[153][155][156] Under the bill, the state's minimum wage would have settled at $9.25 an hour, after two years.[157] The measure was never enacted due to failing in the Virginia House of Delegates.[153][156][157] Three years later, as a gubernatorial candidate, Northam proposed that Virginia set its minimum wage at $15 an hour.[153][lower-alpha 3] As governor, Northam plans to campaign against Republican state legislators who oppose a higher minimum wage.[153] Northam has pointed to the costliness of transportation in rural parts of the state to dispute the notion that a $15 minimum wage is too high for those areas.[158] During Northam's first year as governor, he vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature that would have banned localized minimum wages for government contractors.[159]

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.[160] 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.[161]

Northam "has called for phasing out the grocery tax on low-income people and ending business taxes in struggling rural areas."[162] He has called for a bipartisan reform commission to make recommendations on state tax policy.[162][67]


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.[67]

Northam opposes public funding for private schools.[67]

Environment and energy

Northam accepts the scientific consensus on climate change and as a candidate for governor vowed to lead efforts to fight climate change. He pledged, if elected, to bring Virginia into the United States Climate Alliance, a multi-state agreement to uphold greenhouse gas emissions standards.[163] Northam has emphasized the negative effects of climate-change-induced sea level rise on Virginia's Tidewater region.[26][163]

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.[164]

Northam has offered conditional support for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline, provided that the pipeline's construction is deemed to be environmentally safe.[165][166] He has avoided taking a firm stance on other pipelines such as the Mountain Valley Pipeline.[167] He opposes both offshore drilling and fracking.[165]

Northam has supported the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). In 2019, he vetoed a bill that would have prohibited Virginia from entering into the initiative, but in May 2019, he chose not to veto language in the state budget that prohibits spending related to the initiative, because under Virginia law, governors are generally not allowed to issue line-item vetoes of the state budget. According to The Washington Post, had Northam issued the veto, it could have been challenged in court by the Republican-controlled legislature, and Northam wanted to avoid a long legal confrontation. Northam has said that he will seek to implement RGGI spending in future budgets.[168]

In September 2019, Northam signed an executive order establishing a goal for the commonwealth to produce at least 30 percent of its energy from renewable sources in 10 years, a 23 percent improvement on the amount produced at the time he signed the order.[169] In addition to this, Northam set the goal for the state of Virginia to produce 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050.[170]

Family leave and child care

When Northam was inaugurated as governor, the family leave policy for executive branch employees in the state of Virginia applied exclusively to employees who had given birth and offered only partial pay. In June 2018, Northam signed an executive order extending the policy to apply 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.[171] Earlier in the year, Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates Kirk Cox had established a similar policy offering legislative branch employees twelve weeks of paid leave.[171][172]

With regards to private sector employees, Northam has said that he wants to implement tax credits for small businesses that offer paid family leave.[141][173]

In 2018, Northam formed a commission to study the possibility of offering child care to state employees in Richmond. Northam's wife, Pam, serves on the panel.[171]


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."[67]

Health care

Northam supports the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), although he has argued that it is in need of improvement.[165][174] After Republican attempts to repeal the law, Northam 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."[175]

Northam opposes a single-payer healthcare system in Virginia, preferring that such a plan be run by the federal government, but supports the creation of a state-run public health insurance option.[67]

On June 7, 2018, Northam signed a bipartisan bill expanding Medicaid in Virginia.[176] This fulfilled one of his central campaign promises.[177][178] 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.[179][180][lower-alpha 4] 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.[176] Once the bill was enacted on January 1, 2019,[181] Virginia became the 33rd state to expand Medicaid[178][181] and the first to do so since Louisiana in 2016.[182][183] Enrollment in the expanded program began on November 1, 2018.[184] By the beginning of 2019, more than 200,000 Virginians had enrolled in Medicaid as part of the expansion.[185]

On February 21, 2019, Northam signed a bipartisan bill raising the smoking age in Virginia from eighteen to twenty-one.[186][lower-alpha 5]


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."[188] Northam's rhetoric shifted in his 2017 gubernatorial campaign.[188] 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."[127] 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.[189] Northam said Trump's "decision lacks compassion, lacks moral sense, and lacks economic sense."[189] Northam supports granting state driver's licenses and in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.[188]

In February 2017, Northam cast a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate against a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia.[60] 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.[190] 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.[191] 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.[60] In April 2018, as governor, Northam vetoed a law that would have pre-emptively banned sanctuary cities in Virginia.[192] He vetoed the same legislation again the following year.[193]

LGBTQ rights

Northam has supported LGBT rights throughout his political career.[194][195] While running for lieutenant governor in 2013, he criticized his Republican opponent, E. W. Jackson, for making what were widely considered to be divisive statements about LGBT individuals. During a debate with Jackson, who is a minister, Northam said, "What I do in church translates to what I do in everyday life. Whether it's said in my church or whether it's said in my medical clinic or whether it's said before the Senate, it's on me and it's what I believe in."[196][197] That summer, when the United States Defense Department began offering marriage benefits to military personnel in same-sex relationships, Northam and Jackson disagreed with each other on the issue. Jackson said that because gay marriage was illegal in Virginia at the time, the state should withhold benefits from gay couples serving in its National Guard, while Northam supported the federal policy. Northam said that equalizing benefits for gay couples in the United States military is about "being fair with those who have served our country."[198]

During the 2013 campaign, Northam said that opposition to LGBT rights would create an unwelcoming business environment in Virginia.[199] In 2015, he used his tie-breaking abilities as lieutenant governor to defeat a bill in the state Senate that would have forced Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to defend the state's gay marriage ban; Herring had argued that the ban was unconstitutional.[200]

In 2017, while running for governor, Northam spoke against the Physical Privacy Act, a bill proposed that year in Virginia, which if passed, would have required people in government facilities to use restrooms corresponding to the gender specified on their original birth certificates. Northam called the Physical Privacy Act a "job-killing, prejudicial bill".[201] Later that same year, before Northam was elected governor, the Physical Privacy Act was defeated in the state legislature.[202]

Northam condemned the decision by President Donald Trump to ban transgender service members from the United States military. Shortly after Trump announced this policy, Northam tweeted, "Anyone who wants to serve our country in the military should be welcomed. They're patriots and should be treated as such."[203]

Northam's first official action as governor was to sign an executive order banning the executive branch of the state government from discriminating against LGBTQ employees.[70][204][205] The state of Virginia currently does not have any legislation protecting LGBTQ employees from employment discrimination.[206][207] Protections on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity that had been established through an executive order issued by Northam's gubernatorial predecessor, Terry McAuliffe,[lower-alpha 6] were maintained by Northam's own executive order, which went further, introducing, for the first time in Virginia, protection on the basis of gender expression.[217][218][215][216][219]

While serving as lieutenant governor, Northam broke a tie in the state Senate, supporting a bill that would have codified into state law the protections included in McAuliffe's aforementioned executive order.[220][208][221] This bill was defeated in the House of Delegates.[222][223] If passed, it would have applied to all state and local government employees in Virginia; each anti-discrimination executive order issued by a Virginia governor has only applied to employees under the governor's personal authority.[211][222] Legislation that would have codified Northam's own executive order into state law passed the state Senate in 2018 and 2019, but failed both years to pass in the House of Delegates.[224][225][207]


Northam favors decriminalizing marijuana.[67]


During his 2017 campaign for governor, Northam said that if elected, he would approve a map of new Virginia legislative and congressional boundaries in the post-2020 redistricting only if it is drawn by a nonpartisan commission.[226]

Donald Trump

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."[227] As the general election drew near Northam said, "[I]f Donald Trump is helping Virginia, I'll work with him."[228] 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".[228]

Campaign and voting legislation

In January 2019, Northam introduced legislation including bills to end Virginia's photo ID law and a bill to allow absentee "no-excuse" voting to replace the current law which contains limits. He is also proposing new campaign finance limits that would block direct donations from corporations, cap donations at $10,000, and prohibit the personal use of campaign funds by lawmakers.[229]

Personal life

Northam lives in the Executive Mansion in Richmond. He and his wife Pam have two adult children, Wes and Aubrey.[230] Northam's 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. Their father, Wescott Northam, is a retired Accomack County judge, former Commonwealth's Attorney, and Navy veteran.[231]

Northam belongs to a predominately black Baptist church in Capeville, Virginia[91][232][233] and 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.[234] In his free time, Northam enjoys working on classic cars.[235] He owns a 1953 Oldsmobile and a 1971 Corvette.[236]

Northam is a recreational runner and a competitor in races including the Richmond Road Runners' First Day 5k and the Monument Avenue 10K race.[237]

Electoral history

Virginia State Senate 6th district election, 2007[238]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ralph Northam 17,307 54.3% +16.1
Republican Nick Rerras 14,499 45.5% -16.2
Write-ins 45 0.1% +0.1
Majority 2,808 8.8% -14.7
Total votes 31,851 100.0%
Virginia State Senate 6th district election, 2011[239]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ralph Northam 16,606 56.8% +2.4
Republican Benito Loyola Jr. 12,622 43.1% -3.4
Write-ins 31 0.1% <-0.1
Majority 3,984 13.6% +4.8
Total votes 29,259 100.0%
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Democratic primary, 2013[240]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ralph Northam 78,476 54.2%
Democratic Aneesh Chopra 66,380 45.8%
Majority 12,096 8.4%
Total votes 144,856 100.0%
Virginia lieutenant gubernatorial election, 2013[241]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Democratic Ralph Northam 1,213,155 55.1% +11.7
Republican E. W. Jackson 980,257 44.5% -12.0
Write-ins 7,472 0.3% +0.3
Majority 232,898 10.6%
Total votes 2,200,884 100.0%
Virginia Governor Democratic primary election, 2017[242]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ralph Northam 303,399 55.9%
Democratic Tom Perriello 239,216 44.1%
Majority 64,183 11.8%
Total votes 542,615 100.0%
Virginia gubernatorial election, 2017
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Ralph Northam 1,405,175 53.9%
Republican Ed Gillespie 1,173,209 45.0%
Libertarian Cliff Hyra 27,964 1.1%
Majority 231,966 8.9%
Total votes 2,607,725 100.0%


  1. This law allows third-trimester abortions to be certified by a single physician if continued pregnancy is found to pose an imminent danger to a woman's life.[134]
  2. Northam's full answer to the abortion question during the interview with NBC4 reporter Julie Carey, WTOP-FM on January 30, 2019
  3. Northam's Democratic primary opponent, Tom Perriello, had adopted the same position one day before Northam.[153]
  4. MedicAid expansion had been a central promise of McAuliffe's own gubernatorial campaign during the 2013 election.[180]
  5. Military service members are exempted from the bill.[187]
  6. Protection in the executive branch of the Virginia state government from employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was first introduced through an executive order issued in 2005, by then-governor Mark Warner[208][209][210] and was maintained by Warner's gubernatorial successor, Tim Kaine.[211] The policy was repealed in 2010 by Kaine's own successor, Bob McDonnell.[212][213] In 2014, McAuliffe re-instated the policy and expanded it to include, for the first time in Virginia, protection on the basis of gender identity.[214][215][216]


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Further reading

Senate of Virginia
Preceded by
Nick Rerras
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 6th district

Succeeded by
Lynwood Lewis
Political offices
Preceded by
Bill Bolling
Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
Justin Fairfax
Preceded by
Terry McAuliffe
Governor of Virginia
Party political offices
Preceded by
Terry McAuliffe
Democratic nominee for Governor of Virginia
Most recent
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded by
Mike Pence
as Vice President
Order of Precedence of the United States
Within Virginia
Succeeded by
Mayor of city
in which event is held
Succeeded by
Otherwise Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Chris Sununu
as Governor of New Hampshire
Order of Precedence of the United States
Outside Virginia
Succeeded by
Andrew Cuomo
as Governor of New York
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