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Virginia Gov. Northam delivers final State of the Commonwealth address

Northam touted his administration's accomplishments, days before Republican Glenn Youngkin takes office.

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam delivered his final State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night, reflecting on his administration's accomplishments over the last four years.

Northam, a Democrat, largely focused on progress made in different areas, including the economy, education, the environment and voting rights. He described his time in office as "the highlight of my life."

"We are leaving this Commonwealth better than it was when we came into office," Northam said in his address.

His address came just three days before Republican Glenn Youngkin is sworn into office, and on the day that Republicans retook the majority in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Watch the State of the Commonwealth address here:

Here's a recap of what Northam talked about:

Economy

Northam touted Virginia's budget, calling it the strongest the state has seen.

"Thanks to our strong economy, we are at a unique moment, when we have the funding to catch up on long-delayed investments, while also putting money back into the pockets of the hardest working Virginians," Northam said.

Northam said Virginia brought in more than $81 billion in economic investment and created more than 103,000 jobs while he was in office. He mentioned Virginia's minimum wage increase. At the start of 2022, the wage went up to $11 an hour and is set to hit $15 an hour by 2026.

"I’ve listened to Virginians who told me they just couldn’t support themselves on $7.25 an hour," Northam said. "They were always one paycheck away from losing the roof over their head."

Education

Northam emphasized the importance of education, alluding to his own journey.

"I have not always understood the ways that the uglier parts of our past affect things and people today," Northam said. "But I kept my mind open. I listened, and I learned."

Northam talked about his administration's investments into K-12 and early childhood education, pointing out support for at-risk students, raises for teachers and proposed funding for localities to build or modernize schools.

He also touted the G3 program, which offers tuition-free community college to low and moderate-income students seeking high-demand careers, and half a billion dollars of funding for historically black colleges and universities.

Northam said education doesn't just happen in a classroom and it's not only young people who can learn.

"If we are not learning, we are stagnating. And if we cling only to what we think we know, without keeping our minds open to new information, then we cannot move forward," he said.

Environment

Northam reflected on Virginia's progress on environmental issues, highlighting the Virginia Clean Economy Act and investments to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

"Our climate is changing, and our weather is changing faster than ever, and with devastating consequences," Northam said.

Criminal justice

Northam touted the legalization of marijuana, ending the death penalty, restoring the civil and voting rights for nearly 126,000 people and over 1,100 pardons issued.

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

Northam also said he believes that second chances are important.

"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," Northam said.

Voting rights

Northam praised the progress Virginia made on voting rights, saying the state is "a leader in voting access."

"Voting is fundamental to our democracy. Many Americans have fought, and some paid the ultimate price, to protect the freedoms we have under our democratic system, including the right to vote," Northam said.

Some of the changes to voting rights Northam mentioned are:

  • Voting early for 45 days before the election, without explanation to an election official
  • Election Day as a state holiday
  • Automatic voter registration through the DMV

Northam called out those who have made false claims about election results.

"It does tremendous damage when elected officials use false claims to undermine faith in our elections," Northam said. "Voters deserve better, and our elected officials need to do better, and not perpetuate anyone’s big lie."

COVID-19 response

Northam praised how Virginia responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying the state saw fewer cases and deaths than others.

"We have followed the science to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible," Northam said.

He also noted the progress of getting people vaccinated, saying Virginia is doing better than many other large states and the state's southern neighbors.

He held a moment of silence to remember the nearly 16,000 people in Virginia who died from COVID-19. He also thanked doctors, nurses, teachers, National Guard men and women and public safety officers who worked to keep people safe during the pandemic.

"We owe our thanks to our public health workers," Northam said. "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."

Other investments in Virginia

Northam touted investments in broadband internet, the expansion of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, $2.2 billion in funding to fix Interstate 81 and $3.7 billion for rail.

He also pointed out the creation of the Office of Outdoor Recreation, which promotes the outdoors industry in the Commonwealth, and the ReBuild Virginia program, which aims to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

Response to the speech

Susan Swecker, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, released a statement praising Northam.

"From guiding Virginia through a global pandemic to enacting legislation to curb the gun violence epidemic to abolishing the death penalty and passing voting rights legislation, Governor Northam has far exceeded his promise to deliver for all Virginians," Swecker said.

But Todd Gilbert, who became Virginia Speaker of the House on Wednesday, denounced Northam's speech.

"Ralph Northam is leaving office as his own lost cause, condescendingly lecturing us all from some assumed moral high ground because he read the book 'Roots' and then went on a non-stop reconciliation tour. Saturday can’t come fast enough," Gilbert tweeted.

A full transcript of Northam's speech is available on his website.