RICHMOND, Va. - Gov. Ralph Northam delivered his annual State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Northam spoke from the House Chamber of the Virginia State Capitol before a virtual joint session of the General Assembly.
The theme of his speech was "Calling the Commonwealth to Action in Times of Crisis." Northam addressed the pandemic, last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and the steps his administration is taking to build a better Virginia, including his proposals to support small businesses, give teachers a more than 2% raise, expand early childhood education, legalize marijuana, and abolish the death penalty.
Below are some excerpts from Gov. Northam's speech:
On the COVID-19 pandemic
"We don’t like being apart, and we long for the day when we can come together again. We are social people, and we are meant to be together. The separation and the absence remind us of what has been lost. It’s a heavy burden to carry. More than 5,000 Virginians have died from COVID, including Senator Ben Chafin, from Russell County in Southwest Virginia. He was my friend, and I miss him. Whether on the Senate floor or in my office, his presence always brightened my day. The stories around his initials, A B C, always were entertaining. I hope that fond memories of Ben will help his family through these difficult times. I ask you to join me in a moment of silence to honor Ben, and everyone who has lost their lives to COVID."
On the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol
"Here’s my favorite example — the Virginia State Troopers who protected the Capitol of the United States during the insurrection last week. When the Mayor of Washington and the leaders of Congress said to me, Send help fast…these men and women dropped everything and raced to defend our country’s temple of democracy. Our Guard members went there too.While others hesitated, Virginians were first on the scene. It made me proud to see that line of State Police cars racing across the 14th Street Bridge."
"But sadly, many were injured because of the coup attempt, and two Virginians died. They were officers in the United States Capitol Police. Please join me in a moment of silence for Officer Brian Sicknick and Officer Howard Liebengood.
While the fact that our help was needed is terrible, I am proud we were able to help avert more tragedy. There is nothing to celebrate about the fact that our nation needed help — especially to defend our Capitol from fellow Americans — but we can all be proud that Virginia stepped up.
That’s what Virginians do. That’s what service means. And this is what it means to live out our values."
On the COVID-19 vaccine
"Here’s where we are. According to the CDC, only nine states have given more doses than Virginia, and each of those states is larger than we are. We are currently receiving initial shipments of about 110,000 vaccine doses each week for Virginia — and we expect to be receiving more soon.
I appreciate the hospitals, the local health departments, and everyone working to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. I’ve set a goal of ramping up to 25,000 vaccinations per day as soon as possible.
Just last week, I called on our federal partners to release all the doses they have. I am pleased that the incoming Biden administration has agreed to do that, and the outgoing administration has agreed as well.Also yesterday, they authorized states to go ahead and start vaccinating people age 65 and up. We’ll be moving forward with that quickly — I’ll be talking to local health directors and hospitals tomorrow about how we make this happen."
On giving teachers a raise
"Investing in education includes giving teachers a pay bonus. We were all proud in 2018 to give our teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years. Last year, I proposed an additional three percent pay raise. That had to be cut from the budget last year. When I first proposed the bonus for teachers a few weeks ago, I said that if revenues improve enough this month, we should convert that one-time bonus into a permanent raise. Well, tonight I have good news: revenues look good, and we’re going to have more money than we thought. We need to make this teacher bonus a raise, and make it more than 2%. I look forward to working with you all to get that done."
On civil rights
"I’ve made it a priority, restoring civil rights for more than 40,000 people, and I have pardoned more Virginians than any Governor in our Commonwealth’s history. But that shouldn’t be up to one person, and you shouldn’t have to ask for your basic civil rights to be restored. So, I’m proposing to change Virginia’s constitution to make that process automatic. If we want people to return to their communities and participate in society, we need to welcome them back fully. It’s wrong to keep punishing people forever. This is the right thing to do. It will take a constitutional amendment, and that will take two sessions, so I’m calling tonight on the folks in the General Assembly now, and the people who want to be in my position and in the General Assembly next year, to commit to doing it."
On marijuana legalization
"It’s time to join 16 other states and make marijuana legal, and end the current system rooted in inequity. We’ve done the research, and we can do this the right way, leading with social equity, public health, and public safety. Reforming our marijuana laws is one way to ensure that Virginia is a more just state that works better for everyone.Marijuana has become a cash crop that rivals tobacco — even here in Virginia. But as an illegal crop, it makes no money for Virginia. By legalizing and taxing it, we can use the revenue to help communities most disproportionately impacted by the inequities in our laws."
On the criminal justice system and the death penalty
"But when we all agree that a crime deserves the strongest punishment we can give, it’s still vital to make sure our criminal justice system operates fairly and punishes people equitably.
We know the death penalty doesn’t do that. But make no mistake—if you commit the most heinous crimes, you should spend the rest of your days in prison.
But here are the facts about the death penalty.
Virginia has executed more people than any other state—more than 1,300 people.
And here’s another truth: a person is more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death when the victim is white, than when the victim is Black."
"For all of these reasons, the death penalty is much less common in Virginia than before. Today, only two people are on death row.
It’s time to change the law, and end the death penalty in Virginia."
On Confederate statues
"And in our nation’s capital, we have removed the Confederate statue that represented Virginia for more than a century. Soon, civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns — who fought to right the wrongs of racism — will represent Virginia there.
Let’s get that done this year, together.
We honor Barbara Johns for her work to integrate public schools in Virginia.
But at the same time, Virginia also continues to celebrate a man who worked against integration — Democrat Harry Byrd, the architect of Massive Resistance, which closed public schools to children like Barbara Johns. It’s time to stop this celebration, too, and remove this monument from Capitol Square."
The governor's address was streamed live on the News 3 Facebook page. If you missed it, you can watch it above.