Ralph Northam

On Monday night, Virginia’s newly-elected Governor Ralph Northam, former Democrat lieutenant governor and state senator from the Eastern Shore spoke to a crowd about what he believes the state legislature should pass to ensure a progressive agenda. Northam charged the Republican-led General Assembly to expand the commonwealth’s Medicaid operations, pass stricter gun control laws, and protect rights for abortions.

Governor Northam made his statement in reference to the monumental gains Democrats made in the House of Delegates in the November election. Republicans lost 15 seats, going from a 66-34 majority to now having the House at a 51-49 split.

Although the new chief executive’s passionate claims riled his base of progressive supporters, earlier in the day, a Republican-led panel defeated one of his main campaign promises – expanding background checks on those purchasing and transferring firearms. Senate Bill 5 was sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-9), with Senator Adam Ebbin (D-30), and Delegate Kaye Kory (D-38) joining in as fervent supporters. The bill sought to close what some call the “gun show loophole.” Federally licensed gun sellers are required by law to run background checks on all buyers when transferring or selling firearms. However, not all sellers are required to be licensed, especially those at gun shows.

Furthermore, the Committee for Courts of Justice, chaired by Mark Obenshain (R-26) voted down the party line after Senate Bill 360, also sponsored by Senator McClellan, failed to move forward out of committee. The bill proposed legislation that would permit Virginia cities and counties to ban firearms at specific types of public events. The measure was in response to the “Unite the Right” rally held in Charlottesville in Emancipation Park last summer when several protesters in attendance were bearing firearms.

Republicans have championed more money for education, one of Governor Northam’s promises to voters. He wants more funds allotted for a new student grant program that will assist school-age people with training for high-demand fields in trades like electricians, plumbers, and other skilled labor. Moreover, additional funding as been proposed to assist in recruiting and retaining current public school principals, teachers and support staff, according to NBC 12.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Governor Northam also called for a new type of legislative test when proposing laws. He stated, “Does this action do the most good for most Virginians? Is there a better way forward we haven’t considered?” During the rest of the 60-day 2018 Session, bills on higher education, right to work, and Medicaid expansion will come forth. Due to the unique nature of such a small majority the Republicans have in the House, Northam could achieve a few small victories. However, since all committees now sit at 12-10 in favor of Republicans and are all chaired by Republicans, policies that define the governor’s  highly-progressive agenda is unlikely to have momentum needed to pass.