The Northam Interview: A Battle For The Future Of Virginia…And America Too

As Ralph Northam heads into the final stretch of his campaign to become Governor of Virginia, he talks the issues in a Rantt News Exclusive.
Rantt Media Production Designer Madison Anderson

Rantt Media Production Designer Madison Anderson

Update: Ralph Northam has been elected the next Governor of Virginia

If there is a microcosm of this country’s deepening divide, it can be found this week in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Democrat Ralph Northam, the current Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, is running for governor against Republican establishment and long-time GOP lobbyist Ed Gillespie. And it’s devolved into a knockdown, drag-out dirty fight, largely staged by Gillespie, whose race-baiting tactics rival that of Donald Trump himself.

Gillespie is a career politician who has spent most of his professional life lobbying for the GOP. From his first job working the phones for the RNC, to becoming a congressional aide and then strategist, Gillespie is often referred to as the man behind the scenes of the Republican Party. When he left politics to become a lobbyist in 1997, Ed Gillespie worked on behalf of clients like Enron, AT&T, Bank of America, and Cigna. Over the course of his career advocating for big corporate mergers, Gillespie made 8.5 million a year. Gillespie only recently shut down his lobbying firm after announcing his candidacy for governor.

In contrast, Ralph Northam is an Army veteran and a pediatric neurologist who’s passion for healthcare has been evident throughout his career. He’s been an outspoken proponent of women’s choice and has a progressive stance on a litany of important issues, from education to the environment. He’s served Virginia as Lieutenant Governor since 2013, focusing on veteran’s health, child welfare, and building a robust economy that works for all Virginians.

While much of the South remains solidly red, Virginia’s demographics and a rising tide of anti-Trump sentiment have moved the state from a swing state to reliably blue in the past decade. In fact, Virginia is the only Southern state Trump lost. While Northam is still favored to win the race on Tuesday, it’s by a narrow margin that has many concerned the fear mongering, anti-immigration rhetoric of Ed Gillespie may encourage more of the same among other GOP candidates in 2018.

“He’s closed an enthusiasm gap by rallying around the Trump agenda. And I think the big lesson for Tuesday is that, in Gillespie’s case, Trumpism without Trump can show the way forward. If that’s the case, Democrats better be very, very worried.” — Steve Bannon, Chairman of Breitbart News

Gillespie, who once warned other members of the GOP not to use immigration as a “siren song,” has done just that, accusing Northam of supporting policies that enable gangs and child sex offenders. For many, it’s been disheartening to watch fear of difference being weaponized and used to strike a deeper divide of hate among an already hostile voting populace.

We caught up with Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam to ask him his thoughts about his opponent, the future of Virginia and our country.

On Civility In Politics

In the beginning, the Northam-Gillespie race was mostly congenial. But Gillespie pivoted quickly, taking advantage of divisions after Charlottesville to turn Ralph Northam’s campaign into a perceived threat to the Southern way of life. He pulled out all the usual modern day GOP parlor tricks, including anti-immigration rhetoric and race-baiting so obvious, even members of his own party suggested Gillespie might want to tone down the dog whistle.

Barack Obama, who visited Richmond to support Northam’s campaign, delivered this response to what he’d observed from the Gillespie campaign.

“If you have to win a campaign by dividing people, you won’t be able to govern them.”

We asked Ralph Northam about civility in politics and what he thought of the way Gillespie has run his campaign fashioned in Trump’s image.

On Healthcare

This is an area where Northam’s expertise really shines. As a pediatric neurologist and a former Army doctor, he’s focused on providing the best care for the most vulnerable. Planned Parenthood awarded Ralph with a 100% rating for his efforts to fight for women’s choice and he’s lobbied for expanding Medicaid and ensuring Virginia has the resources to deal with a growing opioid epidemic.

Ed Gillespie has not only refused to comment on the Affordable Care Act specifically, but his website contains no details about his platform or policies regarding healthcare or any other major issue facing Virginians.

On Charlottesville

After one Virginia town became a battleground for white supremacists and an activist lost her life, President Trump took center stage to defend “both sides” as “very fine people.” While these statements were widely condemned by his colleagues, Ed Gillespie has yet to denounce Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

Ralph Northam has been clear not only in his condemnation of Donald Trump, but in his message for those who would spew hatred and violence.

“We told them, in no uncertain terms, to go wherever they came from and don’t come back to Virginia. I regret that our President didn’t stand up and do the same thing. Instead of doing that, he said that there were “two sides.” There weren’t two sides. These are peaceful people in Charlottesville. And then he said that these individuals that marched into Charlottesville, these white supremacists, were ‘fine people.’ They’re not ‘fine people.’ That’s not what this country is about. It’s not what Virginia’s about.”

On Campaign Finance Reform

Like many voters, Ralph Northam agrees that big corporate dollars don’t belong in political campaigns and that the current laws allow capitalism to subvert our democracy. He’d like to get lobbying money out of political races, but it’s likely his opponent would take issue with that.

Currently, the primary donor to Ed Gillespie’s campaign is a SuperPac called A Stronger Virginia, who have donated over $4 million dollars to the war chest. This SuperPac is actually run by the Republican Governor’s Association, whose primary source of funding is the Koch brothers and big healthcare corporations like Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Pfizer.

Ahmed Baba: Your opponent, Ed Gillespie, he spent much of his time in his career as a lobbyist for tobacco and oil companies, and during a debate with you, he actually said, and I quote “I did show up for my clients and I was effective.” So if you are elected governor, how would you ensure that corporate interests are not put before the interests of Virginians?

Ralph Northam: Absolutely. That’s a great question. And you know, I’ve always made my decisions that are in the best interests of the public and those are the Virginians that voted for me and who I work for, so I have a plan on the table for campaign finance reform and I think we ought to do away with all contributions from corporations and also would like to limit individual contributions to ten-thousand dollars. We need to take the money out of politics, there is influence, and so I have a plan to do that. Interestingly, as a physician, I have participated and watched the evolution of reform. It used to be, when I was in medical school, you know they would take doctors on trips and to restaurants and that’s all stopped now. So as a doctor, I don’t even take a writing pen from a pharmaceutical company and we need to move in that same direction in politics.

On Gerrymandering

One of the central issues facing states, especially those in the South, is the gerrymandering that has watered down urban and minority votes. Recently, the Supreme Court ruled racial gerrymandering in North Carolina unconstitutional, requiring the state to redraw district maps that the Republican-led congress admitted were intended to suppress votes. It’s worth pointing out that whoever wins the Virginia governor’s race on Tuesday will lead the effort in drawing district maps.

Ralph Northam has committed to fairly drawing districts to support the principle of equal representation that our democracy rests upon, but he’s pointed out that his opponent can’t be counted on to do the same. Ed Gillespie is the GOP strategist who engineered the REDMAP project in 2010 to infiltrate local legislatures and redraw district maps to favor Republicans.

This week, the outcome of Virginia’s governor race will tell us if we can finally put to rest the idea that hate and fear mongering is the way to win hearts and minds in America or if hope for a better tomorrow still lights the way.

It’s likely been clear from the start, but we wanted to ensure you understand that the Rantt Editorial Board endorses Ralph Northam for Governor of Virginia. We hope you’ll get out there, vote, and make the first of many steps to take our country back.

Interview // Democrats / Elections / Politics / Virginia