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Gov. Northam Delivers Message of Hope in Inaugural Address

By Deanna Davison and Sarah Danial, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Ralph Northam took office as Virginia’s 73rd governor on Saturday and urged citizens to maintain the strong “moral compass deep in our hearts” to help guide the state forward.

In his inaugural address to a crowd of about 5,000 outside the state Capitol on a day of stinging cold, Northam reflected first on his childhood on the Eastern Shore, the time he spent fishing and crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay and the advice he received from his father.

“If things get dark or foggy, if you can’t find your way,” his father said, “keep your eye on the compass. It’ll always bring you home safely.”

Northam, 58, said Virginians can likewise rely on their inner compass.

“We all have a moral compass deep in our hearts, and it’s time to summon it again, because we have a lot of work to do,” said the former lieutenant governor and state senator.

Northam also spoke about transparency and the need for government officials to bridge the political divides. His core policy platforms as governor, he said, are those he believes are nonpartisan: expanding health care, reducing gun violence and ensuring equal access to education.

“Virginians didn’t send us here to be Democrats or Republicans,” Northam said. “They sent us here to solve problems. The path to progress is marked by honest give and take among people who truly want to make life better for those around them.”

Northam was sworn in after fellow Democrats Justin Fairfax took the oath as lieutenant governor and Mark Herring was sworn in for a second term as attorney general.

The inauguration drew a pair of demonstrations: About two dozen people protested the controversial natural gas pipelines, shouting “water is life” during a moment of silence. A smaller group, United We Dream, demonstrated on behalf of immigrants.

Capitol Square officially opened to the public at 9:30 a.m., and by 11:30 a.m., the stands were full. Spectators came prepared with heavy coats and gloves to brave the cold. Hot apple cider was served in blue Northam cups that said, “The Way Ahead.”

After the swearing-in ceremonies, representatives of Virginia’s Indian tribes gave a “Blessing of the Ground” for the new administration. Then the inaugural parade began, featuring dozens of groups from across the commonwealth. Cadets from Northam’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, marched across the grounds, saluting the new governor.

Northam’s first executive order was signed immediately after the parade. It “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.”

Among the parade participants with a connection to Northam was the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters. Northam served as a pediatric neurologist at the Norfolk hospital for 25 years. He said the lessons he learned there, including the importance of hope, will stay with him during his four years as governor.

“I have recognized the incredible power of hope and my responsibility to preserve it in the people I serve,” Northam said. “Hope is not just a source of comfort for the afflicted – it is a wellspring of energy to fight for a better tomorrow, no matter the odds. I am committed as your governor to fight every day for the hope that tomorrow will be better – for all of us, not just some of us.”

Women’s Equality Coalition Releases Legislative Agenda

By Sarah Danial and Brandon Celentano, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- The Women’s Equality Coalition is supporting  a legislative agenda focusing on issues  ranging from Medicaid expansion and birth control to redistricting and no-excuse absentee voting.

Coalition representatives from Progress Virginia, Community Mobilization for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and their supporters called on lawmakers to advance rights and programs for women and families. 

Coalition members said they are focusing on three umbrella issues in legislation they hoped to see filed and considered this session -- women’s health, economic justice and democratic participation.

In addition to Medicaid expansion, no-cost birth control and ensuring a right to abortion, the group supports workplace and economic reforms. It backs legislation to raise  the minimum wage in Virginia to $15 an hour, establish pay equity  and combat employment discrimination. The group additionally wants improvements in paid family and medical leave.

The coalition also supports the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

At its news conference Monday, the group also called for non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting.

‘“Every citizen has the right to make their voice heard, but in too many parts of Virginia, women don’t have a say in choosing their representatives because the election outcome has already been rigged,” said Anna Scholl, executive director of Progress Virginia.

 “Non-partisan redistricting reform and no-excuse absentee voting would allow women to more fully participate in our democracy and give responsible Virginians across the Commonwealth the ability to have their voice heard, even if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day.”

Joyce Barnes,  a home health care worker and a member of the Service Employees International Union, spoke in support of the coalition.

“I work for minimum wage, and I currently have two jobs. I don’t get home until 10 p.m.and I miss time with my family and friends. I never get a vacation or time off  because I have to put food on my table and pay my rent,” she said. “We need to pass these bills so that women like me can live like everyone else and get the compensation they deserve.”

Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, noted that Virginia is one  of 19 states that has not expanded Medicaid. Gov.-elect Ralph Northam has said that Medicaid expansion will be a priority in the coming legislative session.

Keene said legislation that would confirm abortion as a fundamental right and prioritize birth control said it is “a common sense bill which makes Virginia lives better.”

Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Virginia General Assembly. A spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus declined to comment on the coalition’s goals. Requests for comment to the Family Foundation, which seeks to “empower families in Virginia by applying a biblical worldview” to public policy. were not returned.

More information about the Women’s Equality Coalition and its legislative agenda is at vawomensequalitycoalition.org.

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