RICHMOND, Va. – Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) delivered his fourth and final State of the Commonwealth address in front of state lawmakers Wednesday night.
Northam leaves office this weekend and because of term limits in Virginia for the governor’s office, he can’t run consecutively for another four years.
The theme of Northam’s speech was "Taking care of one another."
During his hour-long address, the governor touched on many of his successes, including his response to COVID-19.
“As the nation’s only governor who is also a doctor, I am proud of how Virginia has handled this pandemic,” Northam said. “We have followed the science to keep Virginians as safe and healthy as possible. We have seen fewer cases and fewer deaths than many of our neighbors. Nearly 90 percent of our adult population has had at least one shot. We’re the 9th state in the nation for having our residents fully vaccinated, and for vaccination rates for teenagers. We’re doing better at vaccinations than many other large states and all of our southern neighbors.”
Gov. Northam gave himself a solid grade on the economy. He said he’s leaving the next administration with the strongest economy in the state’s history.
“During our four years we have brought in more than $81 billion in economic investment, more than four times any previous administration and creating more than 103,000 jobs,” he said.
The governor said he’s actually putting money back into the wallets of Virginians, claiming total general fund revenues rose nearly 20% last month.
“We are leaving this Commonwealth better than it was when we came into office,” said Northam. “We have built a state that does a better job of treating people right. It’s more welcoming; it is more open; it’s more fair and it’s more equitable.”
News 3 spoke with three local voters about Gov. Northam’s work the last four years from their perspectives as a parent, a teacher and a small business owner.
LaTonya Dooley owns J&K Style Grill in Virginia Beach.
Her rating for Northam’s term in office is a ‘B.’ While Dooley thinks he did a good job keeping Virginians safe during the COVID-19 pandemic because of his medical background, she says he didn’t do enough for small business owners.
Dooley says two years later, she’s still struggling. The increased minimum wage has been a burden and she’s had cut down on hours at her restaurant because she doesn’t have enough staff.
“Finding valuable employees or people that just want to work that just wasn't given the free money, the unemployment, finding people just want to work is difficult right now,” said Dooley.
Dooley said the supply chain issues are also causing a strain on her business.
“Because of the supply and demand, the shortage of chicken, the shortage of egg rolls wraps, the shortage of just the supplies that we use, it's been a challenge,” she said.
Chesapeake teacher, and mother, Amanda Lambert believes the governor deserves a ‘B’ or ‘A-.’
She said he’s been an advocate for public education and believes he did the right thing by mandating masks in schools.
“It was good having someone with a medical background and in the pilot seat; that definitely gave me some reassurance,” Lambert said. “I think he relied on sound data and the input of experts. He was good about giving us timely information and I think he took a prudent but balanced approach to things.”
But for Virginia Beach mother of seven, Sara Gerloff, she gives him a failing grade.
“I would give the governor a big, fat F,” Gerloff said. “He doesn't deserve any more than that.”
She said the governor overstepped his authority by mandating masks and not giving parents the choice whether or not to mask their kids at school.
Gerloff has been a tireless advocate for making masks optional.
“The last year of my life has been quite a journey,” Gerloff said. “I have learned so much about our government, about people, about myself….I’m still going to go up there and I’m going to fight for every other kid out there whether they’re mine or not because in the end, they all matter.”
Bilal Muhammad, who heads the Stop the Violence Team, applauds the governor’s time in office.
“I’d give him an A plus,” Muhammad said. “I think he did a lot of work in the communities, making sure some funding reached the low-income housing complexes and helping to curb violence. There’s always room for improvement but I applaud the governor.”
During his term, the governor also said he’s expanded voting rights with early voting and making Election Day a holiday. He also legalized marijuana possession.
Northam closed his address saying he’s hopeful both parties can come together to get the work done.