In final address as governor, Northam says Virginia is ‘better than it was’

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is on his way out, ready to transfer power to his successor this weekend, and he delivered his final address Wednesday evening.

“We are leaving this commonwealth better than it was when we came into office,” Northam said, later calling his term as governor the highlight of his life.

Northam listed off changes enacted under his administration, including allowing people to vote early 45 days before an election without having to provide a reason. Virginia turned Election Day into a state holiday and made voter registration automatic through motor vehicle services.

“Because of these changes, we have seen record voter turnout in the past two elections,” Northam said, adding that the 2021 election brought a 20% increase in voter participation when compared to the election four years earlier.

Virginia also ended the death penalty and legalized recreational marijuana.

“Our modern-day punishments and practices have their roots in a more discriminatory and unfair past,” Northam said.

According to Northam, the state brought in more than $81 billion in economic investment, more than four times any previous administration, and created more than 103,000 jobs over the past four years.

“We’ve also taken steps to be a better state for workers,” Northam said, referring to a minimum wage hike. “An increase to $11 an hour just kicked in and we’ll get to $15 by 2026.”

Other accomplishments Northam pointed to included raising teacher salaries more than 10%, expanding Medicaid access to thousands of Virginians and investing in greater access to high speed internet.

“We’ve moved broadband investments from $4 million a year to $2 billion,” Northam said. “We’re on track to have universal broadband on its way to every community by 2024. This is one of the most important investments we could have made, especially in rural communities.”

Northam said he was proud of public health officials for how they responded to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re the ninth state in the nation for having our residents fully vaccinated, and for vaccination rates for teenagers,” Northam said. “We’re doing better at vaccinations than many other large states and all of our southern neighbors.”

And Northam, a Democrat, wished his successor — Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin — the best.

“I am confident that he will lead this commonwealth well,” Northam said.

Youngkin will be sworn into office Saturday.

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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