Since Virginia governors are barred from serving two consecutive terms in office, Democrat Terry McAuliffe can’t run for again this year. However, his Lieutenant Governor, Ralph Northam, is running and is one of the two Democrats in the race for the party’s nomination. The only other candidate is former U.S. Representative Tom Perriello and the two have been locked in a tight race.
Prior to serving as Lt. Governor, the 57-year-old Northam represented Virginia’s sixth State Senate district, which covered counties and cities along the Atlantic coast, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk. He also served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War and is a doctor, earning his M.D. at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Northam also voted for President George W. Bush twice.
Northam is married to Pam Northam and has two children.
Here’s a look at where Northam stands on key issues.
1. Northam Called the AHCA ‘Most Spineless, Unprincipled Cruelty’
As a Democrat, Northam is no fan of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May. In a statement issued after it was passed, Northam called on the Senate to kill the bill. He called the bill “the most spineless, unprincipled cruelty that I have ever seen come from a legislative body.”
Northam said in a statement:
As a physician, I remember personally what that time was like. I spent so much time on the phone with insurance companies before the Affordable Care Act’s passage that I decided to do something about it. That’s why I first ran for public office. Today, I am thinking about my patients, a lot of whom are on Medicaid, a lot of whom have preexisting conditions and live with disabilities, and my heart breaks for them. House Republicans today told them that they do not have the right to quality and affordable healthcare, and what’s more, they could literally pay for it with their lives.
“If Ed Gillespie has anything to say but ‘no’ when it comes to waiving protections for Virginians with pre-existing conditions, I say as a neurologist that he needs to have his head examined,” Northam said.
In May, Periello’s campaign sent out a video of Northam during a 2011 debate when he said he thought health care was a “privilege.” A Northam spokesman later told the Huffington Post that Northam now thinks health care is a “right.”
2. Northam Has Opposed Charter School Expansion in Virginia
Virginia is among the states with the fewest public charter schools. According to PublicCharters.org, there are just nine public charter schools in the entire state. Northan and Perriello have both opposed creating more public charter schools in the state, even though they have succeeded in other states.
In a email debate with the Washington Post, Northam explained that he wants to see public schools receive proper funding first. He said funding public charter schools would take funds away from K-12 public schools.
“We’d be better off revising Standards of Quality formulas to better eliminate disparities among different regions across the commonwealth and so that every child in Virginia has the same opportunity to quality education regardless of where they live,” Northam told the Post. “Finally, I am proud that we secured federal dollars to fund 13,000 pre-K slots for low-income children. With the goal of universal access to pre-K, tax dollars can be better spent expanding access to all Virginia children.”
On his website, Northam makes it clear that he wants to see more investment in public schools. In fact, the word “charter” doesn’t even appear on his “Education” page. He also wants to increase teacher wages.
“Teacher pay in Virginia is now well below the national average, and we’re losing good teachers because of it. This is contributing to inequality in our education system, as rural and less affluent school districts cannot afford to supplement state funding,” a statement on Northam’s site reads. “Ralph will work with Democrats and Republicans alike to attack inequality in education by raising pay for teacher—a bipartisan priority in Richmond.”
3. Northam Is Supports Abortion Rights & Earned NARAL’s Endorsement
Northam is pro-choice and was endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America Virginia (National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws). In 2013, the group also endorsed McAuliffe.
“We’ve seen the incredible difference it makes to have a true champion for reproductive rights and health care access in the governor’s mansion, especially as the General Assembly continues to be dominated by zealously anti-choice politicians,” the group said in a statement. “That’s why the 2017 election for Governor McAuliffe’s successor is so critical. It will determine whether Virginia continues to move forward on ensuring reproductive health care access for all, or slides backward to renewed attacks on our basic rights.”
The group chose Northam over Perriello because of his actions during his one term in Congress. In 2009, he voted for the Stupak amendment, which would have bared companies participating in the Affordable Care Act exchanges from covering abortion. Perriello later apologized for voting for that amendment, but NARAL still held it against him.
According to a statement on his website, Northam vows to “fight for women so they can decide when to start a family, and he is an advocate for expanding access to long-acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs, as well as protecting a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion.”
4. Northam Says He Supports ‘Common Sense Gun Safety Laws’
Northam claims on his website that he used to hunt during his childhood and he is an Army veteran, so he has first-hand experience with guns. “That’s why he’s been a staunch advocate for commonsense gun safety laws since his time in the state senate,” his site reads.
Northam notes that as Lt. Governor, he broke a tie to vote against a bill to allow Virginians to carry concealed weapons without permits. He also wants to make mental healthcare more easily accessible and keep guns out of the “hands of those who are severely mentally ill.” He’s also calling for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
As the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes, Northam focused on guns in his first TV ad in the race. The ad included a gun control advocate saying Northam “stood up to the NRA” after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, when 32 people were killed.
5. Northam Voted for President George W. Bush Twice & Called the Decision ‘Wrong’
Northam admitted in a New York Times interview that he voted for President George W. Bush twice. He said he was “apolitical” at the time and has admitted that he was “wrong” to vote for Bush.
Northam is no fan of the current Republican President, Donald Trump. As Mediate notes, Northam released a campaign ad in May, in which he calls the president a “narcissistic maniac.”
“Now, I’m listening carefully to Donald Trump. And I think he’s a narcissistic maniac,” Northam says in the commercial. “Whatever you call him, we’re not letting him bring his hate into Virginia.”
Politico reports that Northam has repeatedly used the phrase on the campaign and ramped up the anti-Trump rhetoric only after Perriello joined the race. He’s trying to cater to the die-hard Democrats who vote in the primaries.