Gov. Ralph Northam Is Proof That Virginia Needs a Recall Election Law


If there is one thing that is clear from the last few years in Virginia politics, it is that the Commonwealth desperately needs a law to permit recall elections. With his incompetence, radicalism, and scandal, Virginia’s Democrat governor has thoroughly embarrassed what was once a well-run state.

Throughout the pandemic, the incompetence and wrong priorities of Governor Ralph Northam have been on full display. For example, Virginia has lagged badly behind most of the rest of the country in coronavirus testing. To try to make the numbers less embarrassing, Northam’s Administration decided to combine viral test numbers with antibody test numbers. This is in spite of the fact that the two tests measure different things: the viral test tells you if you currently have the coronavirus, and the antibody test tells you if you have ever had the virus. Unfortunately, by combining the two sets of numbers, the value of the data is diminished.

Even worse, Northam did too little to prevent unnecessary deaths at nursing homes, and his Administration has since been trying to cover up the problem. Now hundreds of long-term care facility residents are dead, and Northam claims that state law does not allow the release of information about which nursing homes have had coronavirus outbreaks. There is disagreement as to whether or not the law actually prohibits transparency; and there is bipartisan support for a legislative fix, if necessary. However, Northam has done nothing to try to remedy the situation, probably because he would like to keep the public in the dark. Fortunately, the federal government will soon begin collecting and releasing coronavirus data from nursing homes to help mitigate the problem.

While Northam has done too little to protect the elderly in nursing homes, he has done too much to protect violent criminals. Northam’s Administration is releasing them — without regard for the safety of the public — to keep them from getting the coronavirus in prison. Given the fact that only five state prisoners have died of the coronavirus out of tens of thousands of inmates and that 96 percent of prisoners that test positive for the coronavirus have no symptoms, it makes no sense to be setting violent felons free. Of course, it is likely that the coronavirus is more of an excuse rather than the reason that Northam is freeing criminals; after all, Democrats have long been soft on crime.

Even setting aside his coronavirus response, Northam’s governorship has still been a disaster. He expanded Medicaid and signed a pro-abortion bill along with several anti-gun bills. He also hiked the minimum wage, which will further harm small businesses that have been devastated by the coronavirus. Finally, he recently signed “green energy” legislation, which will hike the average electric bill by about $50 a month.

Furthermore, Northam lacks the character to hold public office. In college, Northam’s nickname was “Coonman,” and a photo with a person in blackface and another in a KKK robe and hood appeared on his medical school yearbook page. Initially, he admitted that he was in the racist photo, but then he denied it the following day while admitting to having worn blackface. For over 30 years — with the help of co-conspirators from his college and medical school — Northam hid his tawdry, racist past. Consequently, Virginia voters were unaware of his history when they went to the polls.

If Virginia were one of the 19 states that permit recall elections, voters would have the option of ousting Northam. For those concerned that recall elections would be abused, we can examine the record of other states, which shows that recall elections are relatively rare. In fact, over the past 20 years, there have only been two recall elections for governors and 21 recall elections for state legislators.

Virginia’s current recall law, which permits citizens to petition for a recall trial to be decided by judges, is wholly inadequate. It is unclear if it applies to state officials, and it has never been used against them in over 40 years. While it is not possible to pass a recall election law with the current governor and legislature, Republicans should run on this issue in next year’s elections and enact a recall election law once they regain power. By doing so, Republicans would empower citizens to deal with disgraceful officeholders, like Northam, who lack the decency to resign.

Richard McCarty is the Director of Research at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.

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