RICHMOND, Va. -- On a cold, windy day on the South Portico of Virginia’s capitol, Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist who grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was sworn in as the 73rd governor of the Commonwealth.
Northam wasted little time getting to work. Right after the inaugural parade, which featured the entire VMI corps of cadets, the governor signed three executive orders.
Executive order one "prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, political affiliation, or against otherwise qualified persons with disabilities in Virginia state government,” according to the Northam administration. The two other executive actions gave power to Northam’s chief of staff, Clark Mercer, and allows Northam to declare a state of emergency in Virginia.
During his inaugural address, Northam said his administration was sent to Richmond by voters to look past political parties and focus on solving problems in areas like health care, gun violence and income inequality.
“The guiding principle of this administration will be simple, we will work together to make our Commonwealth work better for all Virginians, no matter who they are or where they are from,” Northam said.
Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax was also sworn in. Fairfax is the second African-American to be elected to a statewide office in Virginia history. The first, former Governor Doug Wilder, watched on with a smile during Farifax’s oath of office.
Attorney General Mark Herring, who won re-election in November, was also sworn into office.
In an ode to his parents, Northam said his leadership style is derived from the way he saw them treat others. Northam’s mother worked in health care and his father was a judge.
“Their humble and steady service to those around them taught me what strength looks like. It taught me that you don’t have to be loud to lead,” Northam said.
Republican state lawmakers in attendance appeared to enjoy the “don’t have to be loud to lead” comment by Northam. More than one Virginia Republican has said Northam’s predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, was not shy in selling a rosier image of his administration’s success than was reality.
Republican lawmakers congratulated Northam on his inauguration, and hoped aloud that the tone of bipartisanship he has expressed thus far continues.
"As I said in my remarks to the House on the first day of session, I am confident we can build a mutually productive relationship that improves the lives of the citizens we both serve,” said Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).
After Northam, a VMI graduate, thanked military members, the governor opened his remarks by acknowledging the “complex” history of the state he now leads. The governor pointed out Richmond’s Church Hill was the site of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech that helped launch the American Revolution. However, Northam said years later at the base of that same hill one of the largest slave trading markets in the country was thriving.
“This unique heritage endows us with a responsibility to shape the future. To leave this place better than we found it. That’s the Virginia way,” Northam said.
The soft-spoken doctor said when he treated patients, no one asked whether you are a Republican or Democrat. In a political climate chalked full of vitriol, Northam said Virginia should be an example to the country in how government can serve the people that grant it power.
“It can be hard to find our way in time where there is so much shouting. When nasty shallow tweets take the place of honest debate. When scoring political points gets in the way of dealing with real problems. If you’ve felt that way, I want you to listen to me right now. We are bigger than this, we are,” Northam said.
At the end of his first address as Governor, Northam called on Virginians to rely on their moral compass.
"Hope is not just a source of comfort for the afflicted; it is a well spring of energy to fight for a better tomorrow. No matter the odds,” Northam said. "Let us rely on the compass we all carry to show us the way ahead. I ask you to join me. Let’s get to work.”
A who’s-who of the Virginia political world attended the inauguration. Ten former governors, from Tim Kaine to Jim Gilmore to Doug Wilder to George Allen, watched on as Northam took office.
Following the inaugural parade, Northam and his wife Pam welcomed hundreds of Virginians from across the state into the Executive Mansion. Pool reports said the Northams greeted their guests in the State Dining room, and the topics of discussion ranged from the cold weather to the Eastern Shore.