Northam defends Florence prep: ‘My job is to keep Virginians safe’

WASHINGTON — Gov. Ralph Northam defended his precautionary measures ahead of Florence’s arrival last week during his monthly appearance on WTOP’s Ask the Governor program Wednesday, saying that his job is to protect Virginians and that it was a success.

The storm cost Virginia around $60 million, much of which was from storm prep.

Some state lawmakers were surprised by the expense and have asked for more scrutiny of the expenditures.

“This was a very serious storm,” Northam told WTOP. “We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. … I’m very proud of our agencies, and we learned a lot from this.”

2018 was the first year that Virginia had four evacuation zones in the low-lying areas. Last Monday, Northam and state agencies ordered a mandatory evacuation of Zone A.

Zone A includes about 245,000 people.

“It’s something that we didn’t take lightly,” Northam said. “This was a very unpredictable storm.”

He noted that, despite forecast projections, what people see on television as far as storm tracking goes, it still takes days to properly evacuate areas and get shelters established if they’re needed.

“I don’t have any regrets,” Northam told WTOP. “These storms are very, very unpredictable.”

Declaring a state of emergency allows Virginia to get 75 percent of its expenditures back.

“Yes, it was expensive, but at the end of the day, we have over eight million Virginians — my job is to keep them safe.”

But what of those who Virginians who, after Virginia was spared the worst of Florence’s fury, don’t want to heed mandatory evacuations in the future?

“They put themselves at risk and they put the first responders at risk,” Northam said.

Climate change

Is Virginia preparing for how climate change will impact rising sea levels?

They are.

“Now we have actually have a ‘resiliency officer'” and that person will be concentrating on precisely that: How to deal with rising sea levels.

Northam is also an advocate for more environmental studies as well as promoting renewable energy.

“One of the things I’m so proud of of our administration is our focus on renewable energy,” Northam said. “Anything we can do to move away from fossil fuels, we’re doing it, and we’re doing it as fast as we can.”

Amazon HQ2

Amazon has the potential to bring lots of jobs to the D.C.-area if it moves to the region.

“I think Virginia has put a very competitive package on the table,” Northam said.

And in the wake of business meetings with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, what kind of cooperation are area leaders enacting?

It’s all about training and affordable housing, not just for new arrivals, but for locals, according to Northam.

“We, as you know, have put a lot of emphasis on how we train the 21st-century workforce,” Northam said.

That workforce needs places to live and to not be too far from their jobs as well.

A new rash of traffic congestion is also being looked into.

“Traffic is always a concern and a challenge for us,” Northam told WTOP. “The three of us took the step to find a dedicated source of revenue for Metro.”

Virginia put up $154 million, and Northam said the key concern continues to be on infrastructure and transportation if Amazon or any other large company moves to the region.

“We are working together. Whether they come to Washington, Maryland or Virginia … it will be a benefit for all of greater Washington,” Northam told WTOP.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been mum about the choice for HQ2’s location.

“They keep their cards very close to their chest,” Northam said.

Voter registration

Virginia’s voter registration site was down for National Voter Registration Day.

Northam says it was only down for about an hour, and the issue was technical, not security based.

“I want to assure Virginians that every vote counts and we take this very seriously,” Northam said.

He said he’s taking more steps to ensure the election remains secure, including replacing the current system with new technology.

One goal is to have all Virginians who are eligible to vote participate in elections, Northam said. “We want them to pay attention to politics.”

He wants them to get to the polls on election day, but getting them registered is the first step.

He also talked about the difficulties some younger voters seem to have had with absentee ballots — particularly that Millennials don’t know where to buy stamps.

Terry McAuliffe and the 2020 election

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been traveling the country ahead of the midterm elections, and some wonder whether or not he’ll make a bid for the presidency in 2020.

“I don’t know what his plans are, after 2018, after the elections,” Northam said. But: “[McAuliffe] did a great job for Virginia.”

Would McAuliffe present a challenge for President Trump?

“I think he would be a good president, if that was something he wanted to do,” Northam said.

Impact of women on 2018 election

What potential impact could women have on the 2018 election?

A huge one, according to Gov. Northam.

“There was just a tremendous amount of energy across Virginia,” Northam said.

He noted that it was a reaction to the dysfunction in Washington.

“I think you’re going to see a large turnout” for 2018 and beyond, Northam said.

Listen to Wednesday’s full Ask The program below. The audio has been edited to remove traffic, weather and commercials.

Ralph Northam on WTOP's Ask the Governor 9/26

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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