State Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk thinks the politically divided Virginia Senate could benefit from having a “healer” as its presiding officer.
“I really think we need someone who has experience mediating,” Northam said this week. “I’m trained to be a healer. I try to make people better and bring ideas together and really move forward and do what’s in the best interests of the commonwealth.”
Northam is the ninth candidate and second Democrat to announce plans to run for lieutenant governor. Aneesh Chopra, the former chief technology officer in the Obama administration, also is running for the Democratic nomination, which will be decided in a primary. Seven Republicans are running for their party’s nomination, to be decided in a state convention.
The incumbent lieutenant governor, Republican Bill Bolling, ended his bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination last week.
Northam informed supporters last weekend that he would get into the race after months of contemplation. He said he initially shied away from running, fearing a statewide campaign would put a strain on his medical practice. But his partners and family were supportive of him. That backing, and the “divisiveness and contention” that roiled the Senate earlier this year, spurred Northam to get in the race.
“There are serious challenges out there right now, starting with transportation and education and the environment and health care,” Northam said Tuesday during meeting with two reporters in his legislative office.
Northam said those priorities took a back seat in the evenly divided Senate this year because of a power struggle that ended with Republicans taking working control of the chamber, and divisive debates over social issues.
“The different social issues that seemed to be a big part of their agenda really bothered me a lot,” said Northam, who played a lead role in his caucus in trying to defeat legislation requiring pregnant women to submit to an ultrasound procedure before an abortion.
“Just to mandate to women that they should have this test, and also mandate to providers, physicians such as myself, what tests we should and shouldn’t be doing — that is nowhere for the legislature to go,” Northam said.
Northam also raised concerns about legislation and subsequent regulations that will require clinics performing abortions to meet the same licensing and building standards as hospitals.
“It was just a terrible precendent, I thought, at a time when we should be concentrating on less regulations rather than more,” he said.
Looking forward, Northam said the state has to come up with a new, “sustainable” source of transportation funding without raiding the general fund, which pays for services such as education, public safety and health care.
He said the state should create its own health benefits exchange to comply with the federal health care overhaul rather than have Virginia defer to a federally-run model. He also supports expanding the Medicaid program for the poor, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that Gov. Bob McDonnell opposes. The federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion for three years beginning in 2014 and gradually scale back to a 90 percent share.
“I think it’s short-sighted no to take advantage of that,” Northam said.
– Michael Sluss