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Ralph Northam
Governor Ralph Northam Gives Inaugural Address (39348612584) (cropped).jpg
Northam in 2018
73rd Governor of Virginia
In office
January 13, 2018 – January 15, 2022
Lieutenant Justin Fairfax
Preceded by Terry McAuliffe
Succeeded by Glenn Youngkin
40th Lieutenant Governor of Virginia
In office
January 11, 2014 – January 13, 2018
Governor Terry McAuliffe
Preceded by Bill Bolling
Succeeded by Justin Fairfax
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 6th district
In office
January 9, 2008 – January 11, 2014
Preceded by Nick Rerras
Succeeded by Lynwood Lewis
Personal details
Ralph Shearer Northam

(1959-09-13) September 13, 1959 (age 64)
Nassawadox, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Pam Northam
(m. 1987)
Children 2
Education Virginia Military Institute (BS)
Eastern Virginia Medical School (MD)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Branch/service  United States Army
Years of service 1984–1992
Rank US Army O4 shoulderboard rotated.svg Major
Unit Army Medical Corps

Ralph Shearer Northam (born September 13, 1959) is an American physician and politician who served as the 73rd governor of Virginia from 2018 to 2022. 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. Prohibited by the Virginia Constitution from running for a consecutive term, Northam left office in January 2022, succeeded by Republican Glenn Youngkin.

..... While Governor, Virginia was named CNBC's "best state for business" twice, becoming the only state to be awarded the title two years in a row. Northam also led the state during the COVID-19 pandemic, where he was the only Governor in the United States who was a licensed doctor.

Early life, family history, and education

Northam was born in the town of Nassawadox on Virginia's Eastern Shore on September 13, 1959. He and his older brother of two years, Thomas, were raised on a water-side farm, just outside Onancock, Virginia. The family grew a variety of crops and tended livestock on their seventy-five-acre (30 ha) property. 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. He and Thomas attended desegregated public schools. Northam graduated from Onancock High School, where his class was predominately African American.

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. Nancy Shearer died in 2009. 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. Wescott Northam's own father, Thomas Long Northam, had served as a judge in the same court.

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. 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. Upon learning about this part of his family's history, Northam said, "The news that my ancestors owned slaves disturbs and saddens me, but the topic of slavery has always bothered me. My family's complicated story is similar to Virginia's complex history. We're a progressive state, but we once had the largest number of slaves in the union."

In high school, Northam was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" and graduated as salutatorian. He was a member of his school's basketball and baseball teams. Northam graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in 1981, where he served as president of VMI's honor court and received a bachelor's degree in biology. He became only the second Governor of Virginia to have graduated from VMI, the first since Westmoreland Davis (class of 1877, elected governor in 1917).

Northam went on to Eastern Virginia Medical School, earning his Doctor of Medicine in 1984.

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. 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. Since 1992, Northam has been a pediatric neurologist at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk, Virginia.

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. Northam says that he was apolitical at the time and regretted those votes, saying: "Politically, there was no question, I was underinformed."

Senate of Virginia (2008–2014)

Ralph Northam 2008-10-28
Northam in 2008

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. 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.

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

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.

In 2009, Northam – a self-described "conservative on fiscal issues and liberal on social issues" – was the subject of an attempt by state Senate Republicans to get him to switch parties. 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. He later said, "I guess it's nice to be wanted, but I'm a Democrat, and that's where I'm staying."

Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (2014–2018)

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

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

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%. Northam was the first Democrat since Tim Kaine in 2001 to be elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.

Governor of Virginia (2018–2022)



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. He made these intentions official on November 17, 2015, via an email to supporters.

Ralph Northam meeting with volunteers in Blacksburg, VA (2017)
Northam meeting with volunteers in Blacksburg, Virginia, in 2017

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.


Northam made a public commitment to focus on addressing Virginia's racial inequities. He and his cabinet then joined with the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus to develop strategies for closing the racial disparity in Virginia's maternal mortality rate, increasing affordable housing and funding for public transportation, supporting minority-owned businesses, removing Confederate monuments from public spaces, removing racist remnants of the Jim Crow era from state lawbooks, rethinking the state's approach to how African American history is taught in public schools, and establishing sensitivity training for state agencies.

On March 22, 2019, Northam signed a bill, introduced by the chairman of Virginia's Legislative Black Caucus, Lamont Bagby, establishing the Virginia African American Advisory Board; this board is designed to consist of twenty-one non-legislative citizens appointed by the governor, at least fifteen of whom must be black; additionally, the board includes five members of the governor's cabinet. The board's purpose is to advise the governor on how to best serve African Americans living in the state. Comparable boards for the state's Latino and Asian communities had already existed, and Bagby called the African American Advisory Board "far overdue". Upon establishing the board, Northam said that it would "ensure the voices of all Virginians are heard, particularly those from underrepresented and historically disenfranchised communities."

In May of that year, Northam announced his intent to establish a new cabinet-level position, Chief Diversity Officer. This position would be responsible for advancing equity and inclusion throughout the state government's operations. Virginia is considered to be the first state in the country to establish such a position at the cabinet-level. On September 9, Northam named Janice Underwood as the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer. Underwood had previously led diversity initiatives at Old Dominion University. Among the issues that Underwood has focused on as Chief Diversity Officer are supporting small businesses owned by women, minorities, and disabled veterans, reducing inequities in health care, and diversifying employment in the state's public and private sectors.

Tenant protections

The pandemic prompted Northam in March 2020 to request that the Supreme Court of Virginia issue a moratorium against evictions. One was subsequently issued but expired in June. Northam then requested that the moratorium be extended and the court agreed to do so in August. In July, after the initial moratorium had lapsed, eviction cases were opened throughout the state, and those cases continued to proceed even after the moratorium was extended in August.

The extended moratorium expired September 7. The Supreme Court of Virginia denied Northam's request for a second extension of the moratorium but declared that a federal moratorium against evictions had to be recognized in Virginia. The federal moratorium – which was set to expire at the end of the year, but was later extended into 2021 – only applied to tenants earning less than a certain amount, who were struggling financially and at risk of exposure to COVID-19 if evicted.

According to The Washington Post, thousands of evictions continued to be filed in Virginia under the federal moratorium "because of the state's loose interpretation of the order." Its limitations led Northam to consider the federal moratorium to be insufficient protection for those facing the possibility of eviction.

Housing advocates pressed Northam throughout 2020 to issue an executive order banning evictions in Virginia for the duration of the pandemic. Northam demurred, suggesting that such an order would have been susceptible to legal challenges. On November 18, he instead amended the state budget to implement a temporary statewide ban on evictions in most circumstances; under the ban, which lasted through the end of 2020, tenants could only be evicted for failure to pay rent if they refused to pursue rent relief programs; the ban also required that landlords provide written notice of state and local rent relief programs to any tenants who failed to pay rent. Once the ban expired at the end of 2020, Northam's amended state budget provided for several new tenant protections to take its place at the start of 2021; these protections allow landlords to evict tenants for failure to pay rent only after the landlords have applied for rental assistance on behalf of the tenants, require landlords who own more than four rental units to offer payment plans to tenants who have been impacted by COVID-19, and extend the amount of notice tenants must be given before eviction from five days to fourteen.

The tenant protections enacted through the state budget did not prevent evictions from continuing in Virginia for reasons other than failure to pay rent, nor did they prevent landlords in the state from denying lease renewals to tenants eligible for rental assistance. Although many of the protections from the state budget expired at the end of June 2021, they were renewed in August through June 2022.

About one-fifth as many evictions were filed in Virginia throughout the first half of 2021 as had been normal for the state before the pandemic. At the start of Northam's term, Virginia had one of the nation's highest eviction rates, and efforts to reduce that rate had already begun under Northam prior to the pandemic.

The rent relief program that Virginia established in response to the pandemic was among the first in the nation. Initially funded by the state alone, the program received additional funding from the federal government in January 2021. Since then, Virginia's rent relief program has distributed a higher percentage of its federal funding than has been distributed by any other state for this purpose and is second only to Texas in the total amount of federal funding that it has distributed. The policy that Northam enacted through the state budget requiring that landlords apply for rent relief on behalf of their tenants before they can file evictions for nonpayment was credited by The Virginian-Pilot as a primary reason for Virginia's effective distribution of rent relief and was credited by The Washington Post as a primary reason for the state's achievement of a low eviction rate in 2021. The Christian Science Monitor wrote that during Northam's tenure in office, Virginia became a "national model" for tenant protections.

Utility assistance

In September 2020, Northam asked the State Corporation Commission to extend its moratorium on utility cutoffs, which had first been implemented in March. The commission agreed to extend the moratorium until October 5. Northam then asked for a further extension in October, which the commission denied. On November 18, Northam reimplemented the moratorium through an amendment to the state budget. Although when implemented by the commission, the moratorium had applied only to private utility companies, the version implemented through the state budget applied to all utilities, including those operated by local and regional governments. The state government was able to grant exemptions from this moratorium to utilities that were at risk of insolvency. Under reforms introduced through the state budget, customers who are unable to pay their utility bills for more thirty days during the pandemic are ensured access to payment plans.

The moratorium expired in August 2021. That same month, Northam and the Virginia legislature implemented a new moratorium protecting financially vulnerable residential customers of the state's largest utility provider, Dominion Energy. This moratorium will continue until March 2022. For residential customers of the state's other utility providers, funds from the American Rescue Plan Act have been made available to assist those who have been unable to pay their bills for over sixty days. The requirement that utility customers be offered payment plans has also remained in effect.

Workplace safety standards

In May 2020, Northam instructed the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry to develop new workforce safety standards in response to the pandemic. The department's Board of Safety and Health Codes voted on June 24 and July 15 to make those standards mandatory statewide. The federal government under President Trump had previously issued safety standards to guide employers during the pandemic but had not made those guidelines mandatory. Virginia was the first state in the nation to adopt mandatory workforce safety standards in response to the pandemic. These standards were set to expire at the end of January 2021, but were extended indefinitely that same month.

Protections for inmates

In March 2020, Northam urged localities to reduce their jail populations, so as to lessen the spread of COVID-19 among inmates, and in April, he proposed an amendment to the state budget that would allow the Virginia Department of Corrections to release non-dangerous inmates with remaining sentences of one year or less. This amendment was passed by the Virginia legislature on April 22. It marks the first time that the Virginia Department of Corrections has ever held authority to release inmates early. The policy is set to remain in effect until July 2021. To qualify for the policy, inmates are required to have a place to stay upon release. An algorithm-calculated recidivism rate is also used to determine whether an inmate qualifies for release under the policy.

Some political activists have called the policy overly narrow and have suggested that Northam should further reduce Virginia's prison population through issuing clemency to certain inmates. Northam and the Department of Corrections have faced multiple lawsuits from inmates who claim to be at risk of contracting COVID-19. In May, a settlement was reached in one of those lawsuits. Subsequently, the ACLU argued that the Virginia Department of Corrections had proceeded to violate the terms of that settlement multiple times. In July, the Marshall Project reported that Virginia's prison population had decreased by the smallest amount of any state in the nation during the pandemic.

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.

Animal welfare

As a state senator, Northam introduced a bill to ban the use of gas chambers on companion animals in Virginia, addressing a means of ... that has been described by medical experts as less humane than lethal injection. The ban was signed into law by Tim Kaine in 2008. During Virginia's 2017 gubernatorial election, Northam was endorsed by both the Humane Society Legislative Fund and Humane Dominion.

In 2018, Northam signed a law requiring that products developed in Virginia use non-animal based testing methods whenever possible; when such methods are not possible, the law requires that the number of animals used in testing be minimized and that the most humane testing method be used. The law exempts testing done for medical research. It also allows animal testing to be conducted whenever required by federal or state agencies. This law made Virginia the fourth state to restrict animal based product testing.

That same year, Northam signed a law banning state-funded, medically unnecessary experiments in Virginia that induce unalleviated pain in cats or dogs; this law, which defines "medically unnecessary" experiments as those not done for the benefit of the animal test subjects, is the first of its kind in the United States and passed with unanimous support in the Virginia state legislature.

In 2019, Northam signed a law classifying the physical abuse of cats and dogs as a felony in Virginia; previously, it had been classified as a misdemeanor. That same year, Northam vetoed a bill that would have established a mandatory minimum sentence of six months for the killing or injuring of a police animal. Noting that Virginia law already classified violence against police animals as a felony, Northam explained his veto by arguing against the value of mandatory minimum sentences and stating, "While violence is unacceptable, these are crimes that can be addressed by a judge with full knowledge of the facts and circumstances of each particular case."

Additional animal welfare bills signed by Northam in 2019 add requirements for the proper sheltering and tethering of animals and provide animal control officers the authority to confiscate tethered roosters that have been involved in cockfighting. Prior to 2019, tethers used on pets were required by Virginia law to be at least three times the animal's length; the law signed by Northam in 2019 changes this to at least ten feet or three times the animal's length, whichever is greater. In 2020, Northam signed a law revising this to fifteen feet or four times the animal's length, whichever is greater. The 2020 law allows the 2019 standard to be enforced when an animal control officer determines that a shorter tether would be preferable. The 2019 law also established that tethers must weigh no more than one-tenth the animal's body weight, cannot be weighed down, and cannot be painful. The 2019 law regarding the proper sheltering of animals requires protection from hot and cold weather. In 2020, Northam signed a law banning the tethering of animals in extreme weather or temperatures (except for when an animal control officer determines that a tethered animal can safely tolerate such conditions); this law also requires that tethered animals be safe from predators.

A bill signed by Northam in 2020 tasked the Virginia Board of Agriculture and Consumer Services with establishing new state regulations for pet stores. To enforce those regulations, the bill created the position of State Animal Welfare Inspector. Northam proposed an unsuccessful amendment to this bill; his amendment would have expanded the state government's definition of a commercial dog breeder to include any person who breeds dogs for research purposes. This amendment was proposed following revelations of poor conditions at a breeding facility in Cumberland, Virginia. Housing thousands of beagles bred for research purposes, the Cumberland facility is the largest of its kind in the state and would have faced increased regulation had Northam's amendment been enacted. Although widely supported among animal rights organizations, such as PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, Northam's amendment was opposed by the bill's sponsor, David W. Marsden, who claimed that the amendment could potentially cause the Cumberland facility to close. Northam agreed to rescind his support for the amendment, while Marsden expressed a desire to implement a revised approach to the amendment's goals in 2021.

Additional animal welfare bills signed by Northam in 2020 ban dealers and commercial breeders in Virginia from selling or importing any dog bred by any person who has committed certain violations of the Animal Welfare Act; ban any sale or loan in which a default could result in the repossession of any cat or dog; ban any hunt that guarantees the killing of a deer, bear, or wild turkey; ban any contact between the public and certain types of dangerous animals in captivity; limit the circumstances in which any cat or dog is allowed to be leased or rented; and establish more detailed standards for animal shelters. The law banning public contact with dangerous animals applies to any bear, cougar, jaguar, leopard, lion, nonhuman primate, tiger, or hybrid of such animals; as first written, the bill would have applied to elephants as well, but before the bill passed, it was revised to exclude elephants.

Civil rights

On March 8, 2019, Northam signed a bill repealing a minimum wage exemption that had applied to several jobs historically associated with black workers; a remnant of the Jim Crow era, the exemption had applied to shoe-shiners, ushers, doormen, concession attendants, and theater cashiers. A month before signing this bill, Northam had faced scandals over racist content found in his college and medical school yearbooks and responded to calls for his resignation by pledging to prioritize racial justice issues throughout the remainder of his term in office. On June 4 of that year, he announced plans to continue repealing all discriminatory state laws that had been passed during the Jim Crow era. To identify those laws, he established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law, which formed with nine members on September 3. The commission was assisted by students from Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond School of Law, and the University of Virginia School of Law. On December 5, the commission issued a report recommending the repeal of 98 laws, most of which had already become legally unenforceable. The commission stated, "Though most of these pieces of legislation are outdated and have no legal effect, they remain enshrined in law. The Commission believes that such vestiges of Virginia's segregationist past should no longer have official status."

Among the laws identified in the 2019 report were a ban on interracial marriage, a requirement that spouses be identified by race on marriage licenses, policies that had been enacted to prevent school integration, requirements that neighborhoods, trains, playgrounds, and steamboats be racially segregated, and a poll tax. These laws were repealed in a bipartisan package of bills signed by Northam on April 11, 2020.

On June 11 of that year, Northam authorized the commission to enter a new phase of research; this phase is focused on identifying modern laws and regulations that have contributed to social inequities in Virginia. The commission will also devise policies to remedy those inequities. Chief Deputy Attorney General of Virginia Cynthia Hudson, who chairs the commission, said about this second phase of work, "it's certainly not my expectation to find the expressly racist language and intent that we found in the Acts of Assembly from generations ago. So, the nature of the work will turn to trying to discern what the impact is from an equity perspective of current law that might not on its face appear discriminatory, but in its effect, disproportionately impacts people of color and other under-represented communities." Northam also signed legislation in 2020 establishing a separate commission tasked with studying the impacts of slavery and discrimination in Virginia.

On March 4, 2020, Northam signed a bill making Virginia the fourth US state and first southern state to ban racial hair discrimination. The bill passed with unanimous support in the state senate. Upon signing the bill, Northam remarked, "It's pretty simple - if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race - that is discrimination. This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia."

On April 11 of the same year, Northam signed the bipartisan Virginia Values Act, which applies anti-discrimination protections to public accommodations. Prior to the bill, Virginia had been one of five US states that did not have any such protections. The Virginia Values Act also updated Virginia's existing anti-discrimination laws to add protections on the bases of gender identity, sexual orientation, and veteran's status.

An additional civil rights bill signed by Northam in 2020 established a process for the removal of racially exclusionary housing covenants from property deeds in Virginia; these covenants had been widely adopted throughout the United States in the early-twentieth century for the purpose of banning racial minorities from living in certain areas. Although all such covenants had become legally unenforceable in the 1960s, little had been done by 2020 to purge the covenants from official legal records. The bill signed by Northam in 2020 allows property owners to have the covenants removed without the need of an attorney.

Later in the year, during a special legislative session largely devoted to racial justice issues, Northam signed a bill making it a hate crime in Virginia for someone motivated by bias against any protected group to make a false report to law enforcement.


Northam supports increasing Virginia's minimum wage, which at $7.25 an hour, has not surpassed the federally mandated level set in 2009. 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. Under the bill, the state's minimum wage would have settled at $9.25 an hour, after two years. The measure was never enacted due to failing in the Virginia House of Delegates. Three years later, as a gubernatorial candidate, Northam proposed that Virginia set its minimum wage at $15 an hour and expressed plans to campaign as governor against Republican state legislators who continued to oppose a higher minimum wage. 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. 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.

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. Northam criticized the partial 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.

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


Northam supports funding public schools. Northam opposes publicly funding private schools.

In August 2019, Northam established a commission to develop new guidelines for teaching African American history in Virginia. Explaining that his primary goal for the commission is to help Virginia students understand the ways that black oppression continued in America after slavery, Northam said, "I think a lot of us need to understand that concept a lot better and this needs to start with the education of our children. Black oppression is alive and well today, it's just in a different form."

G3 initiative for state-funded tertiary education

While campaigning for governor, Northam proposed a plan for Virginia to offer free community college and workforce training to students in high-demand fields who commit to a period of public service. Northam has called this plan "Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back", or "G3" for short, and as governor, he has included G3 as part of his two-year budget proposal, which will be considered in the 2020 legislative session.

For students participating in G3, the state of Virginia would cover educational expenses that remain after other forms of financial aid have been used; as such, G3 has been described as a "last-dollar" program. It would only be available to students from low-income and middle-income households; the estimated cut-off would be about 400% of the federal poverty level, although this could vary depending upon a household's overall ability to afford costs. While participating in G3, students would have to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and would be required to have a three-year graduation plan. Only students eligible for in-state tuition would qualify for the program. According to Inside Higher Ed and The Free Lance-Star, G3 is one of the few free tuition programs in the United States available to students of all ages. Returning students, part-time students, and dual enrollment students are all allowed to participate in the program.

Under G3, the cost of tuition, fees, and books would all be covered, and students receiving Pell Grants would qualify for additional aid. Community colleges would earn a $500 financial incentive for each of their G3-participating students receiving a full Pell Grant who completes 30 credits, and an additional $400 financial incentive would be earned by the community college once each of those same students completes an associate degree.

There are no fixed fields of study that would be included within the G3 program; rather, different fields of study could be included on a changing basis, as determined by economic projections and employer needs. Cybersecurity, coding, clean energy, early childhood education, health care, public safety, and skilled trades are some of the fields of study identified for inclusion.

Students participating in G3 would be required to fulfill two hours of public service, community service, or work experience for each of their academic credit hours. This requirement could be fulfilled through taking a position with local or state government, joining a nonprofit organization, or working in one of Virginia's economically depressed regions.

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. Northam has emphasized the negative effects of climate-change-induced sea level rise on Virginia's Tidewater region.

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.

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

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.

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. 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.

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. Earlier in the year, then-Speaker of the House of Delegates Republican Kirk Cox had established a similar policy offering legislative branch employees twelve weeks of paid leave.

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

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.


While campaigning for governor, Northam called for new gun control measures in Virginia. He then made gun control a priority during his administration. In the 2019 legislative session, Northam introduced gun control measures that failed in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

In April 2020, Northam signed a package of five gun control measures into law. The package included universal background checks for gun sales in Virginia; a limit of one-per-month on the purchase of handguns; a requirement for the loss or theft of a firearm to be reported within 48 hours (with a civil penalty of up to $250 for failure to report); an increase in penalties for reckless storage of loaded and unsecured firearms in a way that endangers children under 14 years of age; and an extreme risk protection order (red flag) bill, which provides for a procedure for the temporary removal of guns from people at high risk of harm to others. Two additional gun-control bills signed that year include amendments proposed by Northam: one of those bills requires evidence that anyone subject to a protective order has surrendered their firearms within twenty-four hours and was amended so that those who fail to comply would be found in contempt of court; the other bill, which allows for municipal regulations of firearms in public buildings, parks, recreation centers, and during public events, was amended to create an exemption for institutions of higher learning.

The package of gun control legislation supported by Northam in 2020 included an eighth bill that did not pass: it would have banned assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, trigger activators, and silencers. The ban on assault weapons would not have applied to firearms already owned in Virginia.

The bill limiting handgun purchases to one-a-month reinstates a law that had been repealed in 2012 under then-governor Bob McDonnell; it had originally been passed in 1993 under then-governor Douglas Wilder. Virginia was the nineteenth state to pass a red flag law.


Northam supports the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), although he has argued that it is in need of improvement. 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."

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.

On February 21, 2019, Northam signed a bipartisan bill raising the smoking age in Virginia from 18 to 21.

As governor, Northam has proposed a state budget that would direct $22 million towards closing the racial disparity in Virginia's maternal mortality rate. The plan developed by Northam would aim to eliminate the disparity by 2025. It would also aim to reduce infant mortality in Virginia. Northam's proposed funding would allow women who qualify for Medicaid solely because of pregnancy to remain covered for a full year after childbirth – Virginia's current policy allows such coverage to last for sixty days after childbirth – and would allow Medicaid to cover home visitation services for new mothers. Northam has also suggested allowing doulas to be covered by Medicaid in Virginia.

Medicaid expansion

On June 7, 2018, Northam signed a bipartisan bill expanding Medicaid in Virginia. This fulfilled one of his central campaign promises. Northam's predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, had tried to implement Medicaid expansion throughout his term, but was blocked by Republicans, who controlled the state legislature at the time and opposed the expansion. Following the 2017 election, which brought significant gains for Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates, Republicans still held a narrow legislative majority, but opposition to Medicaid expansion had diminished among Republicans, and several crossed over in support of the bill. Once the bill was enacted on January 1, 2019, Virginia became the 33rd state to expand Medicaid and the first to do so since Louisiana in 2016. Enrollment in the expanded program began on November 1, 2018. By the beginning of 2019, more than 200,000 Virginians had enrolled in Medicaid as part of the expansion.

As part of a compromise with Republican legislators, Northam agreed to a Medicaid expansion plan that would include a work requirement for most able-bodied, childless adults. The work requirement has not taken effect, as it cannot be implemented without a waiver from the federal government. Northam's administration initially sought such a waiver, but following Virginia's 2019 midterm elections, in which Democrats took control of the state legislature, Northam paused Virginia's request for the waiver, which at the time was still pending.


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

In February 2017, while serving as lieutenant governor, Northam cast a tie-breaking vote in the state Senate against a bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia. 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. In an October 2017 gubernatorial 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. 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. In April 2018, as governor, Northam vetoed a law that would have pre-emptively banned sanctuary cities in Virginia. He vetoed the same legislation again the following year.

In November 2019, after President Donald Trump issued an executive order allowing states and localities to abstain from refugee resettlement programs, Northam affirmed Virginia's commitment to accepting refugees, writing to Trump's Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, "Virginia's lights are on and our doors are open, and we welcome new Virginians to make their homes here...The United States has long presented itself as a haven, a place of stability and economic prosperity. We promote the ideals upon which this country was founded, of liberty and freedom. But to uphold those ideals abroad, we must allow access to them here at home. We must practice what we preach."

LGBTQ rights

Northam has supported LGBT rights throughout his political career.

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 condemned the decision by President Donald Trump to ban transgender service members from the United States military.

At the time of Northam's inauguration, the state of Virginia did not have any legislation protecting LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination. 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, 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.

An even more expansive anti-discrimination law, the Virginia Values Act, was passed in Virginia with bipartisan support, after the state's 2019 legislative elections flipped control of both the state Senate and the House of Delegates from Republicans to Democrats. Northam signed the Virginia Values Act into law on April 11, 2020. The bill, which bans discrimination throughout Virginia on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity in both public sector and private sector employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit transactions, is the first legislation in any southern state to extend anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ individuals.

In 2020, Northam signed legislation expanding gender identity-related rights and protections in Virginia. Northam approved bills barring health insurance companies in the state from discriminating on the basis of gender identity; establishing a statewide standard for the treatment of transgender students in Virginia schools and introducing a non-binary gender option on Virginia driver's licenses and IDs.

Personal life

Northam and his wife Pam have two adult children, Wes and Aubrey. Northam's brother, Thomas Northam, is a lawyer 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.

Northam belongs to a predominately black Baptist church in Capeville, Virginia 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. In his free time, Northam enjoys working on classic cars. He owns a 1953 Oldsmobile and a 1971 Chevrolet Corvette.

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

Electoral history

Virginia State Senate 6th district election, 2007
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
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
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
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
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%

See also

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