RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who rode a wave of voter unhappiness with President Donald Trump to electoral victory, took the oath of office Saturday with a pledge to make politics less toxic and more productive.
Speaking to a crowd gathered in dreary, cold weather on the south portico of the state Capitol, Northam took veiled shots at the president while promising to govern with a “moral compass.”
“It can be hard to find our way in a time when there’s so much shouting, when nasty, shallow tweets take the place of honest debate,” Northam said. “We are bigger than this.”
The folksy doctor with a low-key charm easily won Virginia’s closely watched governor’s race in November, powered in large part by a surge of voters unhappy with the Trump administration. Democrats swept all three statewide offices and made major gains in the state House in a possible preview of this year’s mid-term elections.
Northam drew heavily from his background in his inaugural address, invoking his childhood on Virginia’s rural Eastern Shore and his time as a student at Virginia Military Institute. Northam said the tradition-bound military academy with a strict honor code continues to help guide his actions.
Northam also said he’d been trained as a doctor — he served as an Army doctor before becoming a pediatric neurologist in private practice — to offer a sympathetic ear. He said he’ll bring the same approach as governor.
“Virginians didn’t send us here to be Democrats or Republicans — they sent us here to solve problems,” Northam said, as several former governors, members of the state’s congressional delegation and state lawmakers listened on.
Northam also pledged to govern in the mold of his immediate predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat who made economic development a key focus of his term. Virginia is the only state where governors cannot serve consecutive four-year terms.
Northam, who has kept many of McAuliffe’s staff in senior positions, has pledged to push for many of his predecessor’s priorities, including expanding Medicaid and enacting stricter gun laws.
A former state senator and lieutenant governor with strong relationships with key lawmakers, Northam will still likely face a tough path pushing those priorities through the General Assembly. Republicans hold a slim majority in both chambers.
The state’s 73rd governor faces a host of others challenges. Virginia’s economy continues a tepid growth in the wake of the Great Recession and the state’s…