You have to give Governor Ralph Northam the tiniest bit of credit. Not only did he survive wearing blackface or wearing a Ku Klux Klan hood (we still don’t know which) but he has done just about everything possible to present himself as the only governor who is also a doctor of medicine.
Richmond will point towards Virginia’s rather decent numbers fighting COVID-19 in comparison to the rest of the South. Geographers will point at the great American megalopolis that stretches from Boston to Hampton Roads. Nothing novel has come from Virginia since William Faulkner — and cancel culture will come for him in due course, I’m sure.
So points for self-preservation.
What we should be talking about is that Virginia — unique among her neighbors — seems to have the worst of both worlds.
Despite our current flirtation with Phase 3 restrictions, businesses are in limbo as to whether or not Northam will continue to allow retail and restaurants to function even at half-mast.
Virginia’s public schools are no better off. Debates are raging about 2 days on and 3 days off vs. online education as if there was a choice. The Virginia Department of Education has had since March to institute a statewide plan for online instruction in a worst case (and most likely scenario).
Northam has provided nothing.
Private and parochial schools — flummoxed by a 100-plus page report that is useless to God and man — are looking to go it alone.
College and universities who are utterly dependent upon room and board to function are playing a game of chicken where they will advertise opening on time only to pull the rug on non-refundable fees in October. The alternative? Going online and still charging full freight.
No one in Richmond seems to even have this on the horizon.
Yet even with all of this upheaval, what is Northam focusing on? Gun-grabbing and so-called police reform.
At a time when BLM and Antifa are throwing rocks, bricks, urine, Drano, asphalt and firing rockets at our law enforcement personnel, then following up such violence with demands that police be replaced with social workers, Democrats now believe that Virginians should unilaterally disarm.
Now of course, national Democrats have been throwing the figurative version of all of this towards President Donald Trump. If only he would wear a mask, if only he would lead, if only he would calm fears, if only… if only… if only…
Northam seems to be exempt from such concerns. Not only is he exempt, but in an attempt to get in front of his own mob (maybe 500 people, mind you) both Northam and Herring seem to be willing to do everything in their power to feed the instability while Lieutenant Governor Fairfax has notably been doing something else: praying with faith leaders.
You see, that’s leadership that recognizes fears while creating stability.
But neither Northam nor Herring nor Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney can do these things. Change is in the wind. Monuments must come down. Masks must be worn. Schools must be opened. Guns must be grabbed. Police must be stopped. Roads must be painted (but potholes left untouched).
Is this really the Virginia we all want?
Of course, I am not here to advise Governor Northam on how to resolve the current tensions. Advice from Virginia Republicans — it has been made very clear — is neither needed nor welcome during such times of opportunity. Fair enough.
But it should be mentioned that Northam’s failure to lead is creating many more problems than Richmond is able to resolve, and it is percolating to local government in a way that only creates more uncertainty and unrest.
What would be useful from the Governor’s Office?
Directing the Virginia Department of Education to develop a statewide protocol and system for online education, with state vouchers to parents who elect to either homeschool or send their children elsewhere.
A statewide mandatory mask-in-public order carrying civil fines.
Resuming Phase 2 restrictions for the duration of the pandemic as the “new normal”.
The swift and immediate arrest of agitators in the BLM and Antifa movements and clearing the streets of those who violate curfews.
Clean up Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
Establish a task force for college and universities with recommendations on what a potential “bailout” might look like (if warranted).
Task forces should be established — quickly and in concert with business leaders — to figure out what a two-year crisis looks like.
For instance, 35% of all mortgage and rents went unpaid or underpaid in June; what does that look like in practice if this continues until December? What does Virginia’s food security look like for those unemployed or underemployed? Will the lights still go on and off?
What happens when the number of beds outpaces the number of medical professionals to take care of folks? Even if we get it right in Virginia, what happens when folks come from places such as California, Texas, Florida or New York?
Of course, we all know the answer. If Northam takes a stand and actually leads in a unifying way? Northam breaks faith the the progressive base holding the Sword of Damocles over his head. If he unifies the government and tamps down the crazy, Northam ends his political career.
If Northam elected to focus rather than wander into the weeds of gun control and defunding our state and local law enforcement? Republicans might still disagree with the man. But at least we would all gain that certain quality modern politicians seem to have lost for one another: respect.
Instead, Northam’s briefings and the information from the Governor’s Office have been the opposite of informative. Moreover, there has been no calm, no unity, no certainty with this governor.
Feckless and unmoored, Virginia doesn’t seem to be enjoying the fruits of a COVID pandemic mostly under control precisely because of the tolerance of violence from socialists who have yet to find their boundaries yet.
That should strike everyone as rather unsettling.
Which leads us to perhaps only one conclusion.: Northam is simply not fitted for the times. Uncertain, feckless, unsure of where he stands with his own public and even less sure about the direction of the Commonwealth, perhaps Northam’s talents would be better served in a clinic rather than in the Executive Mansion?
I have no doubt he is a good (if flawed) man, but the times require a leader of men.
Facts are, Northam simply isn’t providing the leadership that brings certainty in an uncertain time.
That’s his fault and no one else.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.