Virginia Governor's State of the Commonwealth 2020

Governor Northam Delivers Last State of the Commonwealth Address

Talks Economy, Jobs, Education, Justice, Environment, Healthcare & COVID-19 Successes

Posted

RICHMOND—Last evening, Governor Ralph Northam delivered his final State of the Commonwealth address before a joint session of the General Assembly. In the last speech of his term, Governor Northam thanked Virginians for their support, friendship, and trust throughout his tenure as the 73rd Governor of the Commonwealth.

He highlighted "historic achievements," including his administration's work to expand Medicaid, secure record economic growth, reform our criminal justice system, close the digital divide, teach the true history of Virginia, expand access to the ballot box, and keep Virginians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is the abbreviated version...

(NOTE: We eliminated comments that thanked team members and elected officials in order to focus on the accomplishments listed. )

Good evening,

Mr. Speaker, Madam President Lucas, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, ladies and gentlemen –thank you for inviting me to speak with you tonight.

This is my fourth, and final, address to you, and to the people of Virginia.

Next Monday, Governor-elect Youngkin will speak to you in just the same way.  By then, he will be Governor. I wish him the best and I’m confident he will lead this Commonwealth well. When he succeeds, Virginia succeeds.’

Who are we as Virginians

If you asked me who we are in Virginia, I would tell you we are people who care about each other. We try to treat each other right. We want our neighbors to succeed, just as much as we want that for ourselves. And our policy choices are rooted in who we are—people who want the best for others.

Dedication to a Life of Service

My adult life has been about helping people, especially children. Serving in the Army, working as medical director of a pediatric hospice, and caring for thousands of children.

Shortly before I ran for Senate, I evaluated an infant in the emergency room. I diagnosed him with cerebral palsy, seizures, and cystic fibrosis…As I walked back to my office, I saw the father on the phone. He was crying, and saying he could never afford the medical care that his child would need.

That experience convinced me that healthcare is a right, not a privilege... I ran for office to help that man and others like him.

I’ve been to too many funerals for children who died because of a firearm.  I ran for office to help ensure that more families won’t have to endure that kind of pain. 

 

How he is leaving Virginia

We are leaving this Commonwealth better than it was when we came into office.

We have built a state that does a better job of treating people right. It’s more welcoming, more open, more fair and equitable.

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.

We have built a state that recognizes the wrongs of the past, and works to reckon with and rectify them.

We have built a state where everyone has greater access to opportunity—the opportunity to get what you need, to build the life you want to live, where you want to live it.

Everything we have built and accomplished over these four years, has been about helping people.

Budget

I am leaving you with the strongest state budget Virginia has ever seen...We have the funding to catch up on long-delayed investments, while also putting money back into the pockets of the hardest working Virginians.

Just today (Jan. 12), we announced that general fund revenues were up 20 percent in December—making it five straight months of double-digit revenue growth.

Economic Success

We’ve also had record economic success. I’ve traveled around the world, meeting with companies, and telling them why Virginia is the best place to be.

During our four years, we’ve brought in more than $81 billion in economic investment, more than four times any previous administration, and creating more than 103,000 jobs.

From Day One, I wanted Virginia to be the best state for business..

That’s why I am so proud that we’ve been CNBC’s best state for business in back to back years—something no other state has done.

We are also ranked number one for business climate by Business Facilities magazine.

Being named best state for business is a testament to our workforce, our education system, our commitment to diversity, and our strong business climate.

From Amazon making Virginia home to its second headquarters in 2018, to Micron’s $3 billion investment to build semiconductors, to Blue Star’s incredible commitment to make billions of medical gloves in Wytheville, Virginia is the state where companies want to invest, put down roots, and grow.

Helping Workers and their Families

We’ve also taken steps to be a better state for workers. I’ve listened to Virginians who told me they just couldn’t support themselves on $7.25 an hour...That’s why we’re raising the minimum wage—an increase to $11 an hour just kicked in, and we’ll get to $15 by 2026. 

We’ve made it easier to adopt through surrogates through Jacob’s law, and for our own state workforce we’ve put in one of the most progressive family leave programs in the country. 

We’ve also made historic investments in affordable housing,.

Education

These days, if you want to get a good job and get ahead, you need additional skills training or education beyond a high school diploma.

We came up with the G3 program, making community college tuition free for low and moderate income students, if they are getting training in high-need areas.

We have increased our investments in K-12 education. We’ve put historic amounts of support into at-risk students.

We’ve raised teacher salaries more than 10 percent, the largest increase in 15 years. The budget I’ve sent to you dedicates new funding to help localities build or modernize their schools.

And we have invested in early childhood education. As a pediatrician, I know that brain development starts early—those first years are vital.

Our teachers, our school staffs, our administrators, are dedicated to one thing: educating children. They are highly trained and skilled, and they do a phenomenal job. They all deserve our thanks and gratitude, especially after the stresses and challenges of the past 22 months

Learning from the Past

My administration has made it a priority to ensure that in Virginia, we understand our past...For too long, we’ve been comfortable telling a story about Virginia’s history that left out a lot of people—and a lot of uncomfortable facts.

We need to understand the full and true story—and put a Black child’s right to have her history included in our textbooks.

We are a commonwealth of contradictions—the place where the first enslaved African people landed, and the place where representative government was born. 

We have worked, hand in hand with many of you, to make Virginia a place that reckons with its past.

We have taken steps in every agency of this Commonwealth to better support and celebrate the diversity of our state. With much help I put together the most diverse, talented, and hardworking Cabinet in the history of Virginia.

We created the state-level Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, led by the country’s first cabinet-level Chief Diversity Officer, and I thank Dr. Janice Underwood and her team for all their work.

Environment

When it comes to the environment, we know that the next 50 years – the next five years – will be a time of great change.

 I was seeing the demise of the Chesapeake Bay—the disappearance of sub-aquatic grasses, crabs, and other living creatures. In the past four years, we have invested strongly in clean energy. 

Clean energy is a job generator. Businesses that are looking to locate in Virginia like our renewable energy initiatives. And Virginia is also at the vanguard of the new offshore wind energy industry in the United States.

And it’s also why we’ve spent four years making our waters and our air cleaner and safer for our children, and our children’s children—including investing $1 billion in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.

I am confident we are leaving our environment cleaner and better than when we found it—and that we’ve put in place the right policies to make Virginia a leader in clean energy, and the jobs and economic progress that come with it.

Public Safety

I sent you a budget that provides pay raises and bonuses meant to not just reward our officers, deputies, and jail officers for the tough jobs they do, but also to make pay scales more fair.

We also worked closely with you to make sure our criminal justice system reflects the Virginia that we are today.

Too often, our modern-day punishments and practices have their roots in a more discriminatory and unfair past.

That’s why we’ve made marijuana use legal. 

That’s also why we have ended use of the death penalty in Virginia—the first southern state to do so.

Our administration has restored the civil rights and voting rights for nearly 126,000 people, and issued more than 1,100 pardons—more than all past governors combined.

That’s who we are in Virginia. We are a state that believes in justice, not just punishment. And we are a state that believes in grace, and in mercy.

The facts demonstrate that what we’re doing is working. In the last five years, Virginia has had one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country.

Voting Rights

I mentioned that we restored voting rights for thousands of Virginians.

Voting is fundamental to our democracy. Yet for too many people, barriers still exist.

We’ve worked together to make Virginia a leader in voting access. Now, you can vote early for 45 days before the election—without having to explain your schedule. Election Day is a state holiday. And voter registration is automatic through the DMV.

Because of these changes, we have seen record voter turnout in the past two elections

Healthcare

Access to health care is also a right—not a privilege.  In the first year of my term, together we agreed to expand Medicaid access to thousands of Virginians.

When a global health crisis arrived, more than 600,000 Virginians had access to care that they did not have in 2018.

In the midst of a contagious respiratory virus...we needed Virginia to be a state where people take care of their neighbors.

COVID-19 Response

As the nation’s only governor who is also a doctor, I am proud of how Virginia has handled this pandemic. We have followed the science to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible. We have seen fewer cases and fewer deaths than many of our neighbors.

Nearly 90 percent of our adult population has had at least one shot. We’re the 9th state in the nation for having our residents fully vaccinated, and for vaccination rates for teenagers. 

 Nearly 16,000 Virginians have died of COVID in the past 22 months...My deepest sympathy goes to the families and loved ones for their loss. 

As I leave office, I hope that our Commonwealth will continue doing what we know works: follow the science. Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Take care of other people, not just ourselves. That is who I know Virginians to be.

[I want to thank] Dr. Norm Oliver who has led our Department of Health with distinction and compassion. And Dr. Danny Avula, who dropped everything when this pandemic broke out to lead our Covid task force.

These individuals worked day-in and day-out, facing an unknown virus, trying to give the best health guidance they could to a worried public.

If you look at our COVID data, you can see that we have lost fewer Virginians than many other states. This team has saved thousands of lives, and I am incredibly grateful.

We owe our thanks to our public health workers. They are truly public servants, dedicated to helping their neighbors stay safe and healthy. They deserve our gratitude. It hasn’t been easy, and their work is not done.

If you want to thank them- then you know what to do. Get vaccinated or boosted. Wear a mask. Protect the people around you. That’s how to thank a health care worker.

Infrastructure Improvements

We’ve also made it an easier place to live and work—by investing in the infrastructure that connects us all.

If you commute, or if you travel, you want better roads and rail systems. If you work from home, or you’re in school, you need reliable Internet access.

We have laid the groundwork to transform that infrastructure.

In just four years, we’ve moved broadband investments from $4 million a year, to $2 billion. We’re on track to have universal broadband on its way to every community by 2024.

We’ve also made generational investments in roads and rail--$3.8 billion to expand the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, $2.2 billion to fix I-81, and $3.7 billion to transform rail across the Commonwealth.

These projects, and many others, will help Virginians in every part of the state get where they want to go faster, and safer.

Rural Communities

Investments like broadband are especially important for rural Virginia. Too often, rural communities feel left behind.

We’ve supported rural economic development—such as the biggest new jobs announcement in Southwest Virginia in a decade, 2,500 new jobs making nitrile gloves in Wythe County.

We created the Office of Outdoor Recreation to promote Virginia as both a great place for outdoor businesses, and for outdoor travelers.

We created the ReBuild Virginia program, investing nearly $400 million in grants to help our small businesses in communities across the Commonwealth stay afloat during the pandemic.

We’ve funded 55 Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development projects, more than the past two administrations combined.

Military Veterans & National Guard

One in 12 Virginians is a military veteran. We are one of the best states for veterans, and I hope we continue to take care of veterans as they deserve.

I also want to thank our National Guard, who have done so much to serve...from last January’s attempted insurrection in Washington to natural disasters, to our COVID response. 

They helped with testing in 2020 and vaccinations in 2021. And more National Guard members are deployed now than at any other time since World War II. We are truly grateful to them.

In Review

It has been a more tumultuous four years than I think any of us expected.

But the challenges have also been opportunities.

More people have health care access. More people have jobs. More people have access to an affordable education. More people have access to broadband—and soon, everyone will have it.

Our rail system is prepared for important upgrades. Our energy sources are becoming cleaner and safer. Our teachers, law enforcement officers, and public servants are paid better. The Chesapeake Bay and its estuaries are healthier.

We are telling a fuller story of our shared history, and inviting more voices to the table.

We are protecting the rights of more people, and making Virginia a more open and welcoming place to live.

Tonight, I can say that together, we have accomplished more than we could have dreamed of that night in 2018.

We are leaving you with a Virginia that treats people right, helps neighbors when they need it, rectifies past wrongs, and helps everyone have the opportunity to thrive.

I hope the spirit of helping other people continues to prevail. I hope we’ll continue to be people who want to serve the world, rather than conquer it. People who sow kindness and hope, rather than anger and fear.

I am grateful to all of you in the General Assembly for the work you’ve done with me and my team, and for your constituents.

And I again want to thank my Cabinet, and my staff. Members of my Cabinet.

They have devoted themselves to doing good for the people of Virginia, and while you don’t always see their work or hear their names, everything we have done well has been their work. They deserve our thanks.

Over these four years, I have been welcomed into communities in every corner of this Commonwealth. I have met thousands of my fellow Virginians, and what I have been most struck by is this—Virginians are good people.

You want to help others. You have a deep love of place, and of your community. You want to see your neighbors do well.

You put your trust in me to lead our great Commonwealth as the 73rd Governor. And I promised to make the best decisions I could for you.

And every day, I have felt so proud, and grateful for you, Virginia. I’ve seen your strength and resilience, your kindness, your generosity. It is you, more than anything else, that makes Virginia the best state, in the best country in the world.

It has been the highlight of my life to serve you. As a past governor rightly said, there is truly no higher honor, than to serve as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

From the bottom of my heart – thank you.

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