Home Virginia Politics What Are We to Think of Governor Northam?

What Are We to Think of Governor Northam?


I’m really asking.

My own sense of him had been, until recently, that he was a man who genuinely wants to do good.

But then lately, I’ve found myself of two minds on just how to see him.

There’s been a lot said here about Northam breaking his promises. People have expressed a good deal of disappointment in this Democratic governor many liberal Virginians worked to get elected.

It is my impression that a lot of what has been disappointing in Northam has involved his helping Dominion Power and EQT get these (Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley, respectively) pipelines built despite serious,  well-founded and impassioned opposition.

Am I right that this is the main area where he’s shown bad faith?

My sense is that — on the pipeline matter– Northam has put the interests of Dominion, EQT, etc. over a variety of other matters of value, among which is keeping the promises he made while running (against the anti-pipeline Perriello) for the Democratic nomination.

I think I’m being fair in making that interpretation, but I’m not completely certain. I hope someone will correct me if I’m off.

But here I will proceed on the assumption that this Dominion/EQT sell-out story is the reality.

That assumption still leaves me undecided between two images of what the man is about. Although I hate that kind of corruption, I also recognize that, in politics, even a truly good man can feel compelled to make moral compromise.

Politicians are continually challenged to weigh moral choices in terms of realism or idealism, the possible and the prefect:

If I don’t get power, I can’t do the good I want to do; but to get power, I’ll have to make some deals with the devil.

To what extent is Ralph Northam such a “good man” who judged that the way for him to do the most good is to sell a piece of himself in order to get the power necessary to advance other good causes?

Dominion Power – by far the biggest donor power in Virginia politics, on both sides of the aisle – has a lot of Virginia politicians on whom it can count to serve their interests. (Supposedly a government-regulated utility, Dominion has used its clout to regulate the government.)

So Northam is not exceptional, among Virginia politicians, in doing Dominion’s bidding. Indeed, the fact that Dominion can even command majorities in the legislature may lend support to the idea that a reasonable and good person might regard selling out to Dominion as virtually a political necessity.

Also relevant to the “good man” hypothesis is the question: How much good is Northam doing on other issues? And might anyone conclude that Northam’s conduct on the pipelines is a reasonable price to pay for doing good on other issues?

Does Northam deserve the benefit of the doubt on getting this image of “a good man dealing with the realities of power”? Should we still regard Northam as worthy of support?

Or should we hold a different, less benign image of the man?

In that image, it is ambition – not the desire to serve goodness – that has driven Northam’s choices.

So the question I’m wondering about might be boiled down to this: What predominates in Northam’s choice to further the many-dimensional brokenness of Dominion’s pipeline projects –his wanting power for its own sake? Or in order to do good?

  • Reston Renegade

    Is this diary for real?

    I live in a community that has 4 petroleum pipelines running through it. They were built in response to the German U-boats sinking U.S. oil tankers in sight of East Coast cities during World War II. The pipelines surfaces are used for parking lots, soccer fields and basketball courts. And the birdwatching along the woodland edge created by the pipeline is first rate.

    On the other hand Ralph is on the verge of getting Medicaid for 400,000 Virginians. Is it even a close contest?

    Does Dominion wield too much influence in the Commonwealth? Yes. Will I give more money to candidates who foreswear taking money for Dominion? Yes. Would I lose a seat in the GA because a Democratic candidate chose to accept Domnion money? Hell no.

    Should we be transitioning to renewable sources? Yes. Will blocking these pipelines hasten that transition? No. If the fracked natural gas does not travel through these pipelines, will it stay in the ground? No. It will travel on trains or trucks. Which has a better safety record: trains, trucks or piplelines? Pipelines.

    Is Dominion full of it when it says these pipelines will benefit its ratepayers? Yes.

    Can the Commonwealth stop these pipelines? No the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regulates pipelines. Should DEQ aggressively require protection and mitigation for stream crossings? Yes.

    This issue is a classic example of the perfect being the enemy of the good and so much preening on the part of the holier than thou crowd for whom it is a great fundraiser.

    • Jason Rylander

      I appreciate your perspective, but your are incorrect in two crucial respects. First is basic economics: opposition to pipelines and fracking infrastructure is a critical aspect of “keeping it in the ground.” The expense of trucking and delay in development buys time to develop cleaner, cheaper alternatives. The cost of renewables drops by the day. What is clear is once the pipelines are built, it is a sunk cost, and gas will flow through them for as long as it can be sold profitably. Second, as the states of NY and PA have demonstrated, state regulatory authorities absolutely have the ability to stop pipelines under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. And they have the authority to impose very onerous conditions on those crossings, which given the terrain, are absolutely necessary. The state water control board does not have to certify these projects under Section 401. And not just the water board, but the State Corporation Commission and the Air Board have important roles to play. It is not just a FERC issue. Perhaps with this knowledge you will reconsider your final paragraph. If protecting Virginia’s farms, forests, drinking water and private property (not to mention stemming our contributions to climate change) can be dismissed as a fundraising issue for the “holier than thou crowd”, then politics is irrevocably broken. And so is the planet.

      • Exactly – thanks Jason; great to hear from someone who’s got some (ok, a LOT of!) expertise on energy/enviro issues.

      • RobertColgan

        And again———the pipelines are being built primarily to facilitate the gas from the USA to be taken to ports to be compressively liquified and then shipped overseas where it commands a higher price.
        So much for US energy independence,
        so much for US infrastructure (the pipelines have a BAD accident history)
        so much for US international environmental concern
        so much for US push for renewable natural energy sources
        so much for US helping fight against global climate change (methane is a truly serious greenhouse gas…..although the amount soon to be released from permafrost will render this almost insignificant)
        so much for treating our planet reverently as the only biosphere we have.

        The proponents of fossil fuels——knowing what we now know from scientific data to be the ineluctable path toward environmental disaster should we continue doing as we’ve done——- are proponents of only one thing: profit$ for corporations and plutocrats.

        • Reston Renegade

          And the 400,000 getting health care is unimportant?

          • Jason Rylander

            Why are you pitting these goals against each other? They are completely unrelated. I trust you also understand that if we get medicaid expansion it will be largely because we nearly took over the GA this year with 15 new (generally progressive) legislators.

          • Exactly, that will be the main reason – another big one being the demise of GOP efforts to kill “Obamacare” – that Medicaid expansion passes, if it does. Not sure how that would be different if Terry, Tim, Tom, Mark, etc. were governor at this point instead of Ralph.

          • Reston Renegade

            So why didn’t it pass under Terry?

            Maybe Ralph’s personal relationship with a few Senators with whom he served made the difference?

            Keep bashing Ralph, Lowell, for all the good it does progressives.

          • Reston Renegade

            Because the question posed by the diary was what to make of Ralph Northam as Governor:

            Getting health care for 400,000 humans far outweighs the disappointment over these pipelines.

            It’s not even close for the vast majority of the Democratic electorate, if not the vast majority of all Virginian voters.

          • Laura

            Again, you are pitting Medicaid expansion against environmental destruction, unconstitutional violation of the rights of private citizens, etc. It’s not an either/or proposition. And you may not know this, but your very own drinking water gets its start in the Allegheny Mountains. Ever been there?

          • notjohnsmosby

            There is nothing unconstitutional at either the Federal or State level about eminent domain.

          • I don’t believe it’s constitutional if there are no “general benefits a community enjoy[]s from economic growth.” As decided in Kelo, eminent domain is constitutional when transfering land from one private owner to another IF “the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible ‘public use’ under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.” That doesn’t seem to be the situation here, since not only are there no “general benefits” to the community, according to this analysis, “the pipeline contract that Dominion has signed on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline will actually increase customer costs by about two billion dollars.”

          • Laura

            Didn’t say eminent domain was unconstitutional. Eminent domain without public need, not in the public interest, is unconstitutional. There is a legal case in the courts right now challenging the constitutionality of the MVP FERC certificate of need. Also recommend reading Cheryl LaFleur’s dissenting opinion in the ACP FERC decision which disputes the case for public need.

          • Exactly, you nailed it.

          • Laura

            And the disproportionately low income and African American Virginians being hit hardest by the ACP and MVP are unimportant?

      • Reston Renegade

        Nothing written corrects anything previously posted.

        Pipelines are safer than trucks or trains to transport bulk materials whether oil or natural gas.

        The natural gas is moving out of the ground until extraction is banned. Let’s introduce that legislation and see how far it goes at either the state or Federal level.

        The Governor doesn’t control the SCC. It’s elected by the GA. How exactly does the Air Board have jurisdiction over these pipelines?

        Whether NY or PA are ultimately successful remains to be seen.

        But the issue posed is what do we think of Gov. Northam? Not being a single issue citizen, and being critically interested in expanding health care for 400,000 of my fellow Virginians, my answer is “outstanding.”

        • Jason Rylander

          The Air Board will consider the compressor station that is proposed to be built in Buckingham, posing a huge environmental justice issue. There will be a comment period on that this summer.

          The issue on the table is not what we think of Gov. Northam in the abstract. It is whether the Governor should be held to the promises he made on this issue.

        • Laura

          By the way, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld NY’s authority under the federal Clean Water Act to deny pipeline water permits.

          Just curious how eager you are to live in the blast or incineration zone of one of these 42 inch natural gas pipelines that have NEVER before been constructed in this rugged, steep terrain, karst geology, and wet climate. Newer pipelines are failing at a rate much higher than older pipelines. “San Bruno” mean anything to you? This list isn’t even comprehensive because it leaves out the 2008 Appomattox explosion.

    • Pragmatic Progressive

      Seconded. I’m a pragmatic liberal/progressive and a realist. What that means is that I will always go with “what works” over an impractical solution, or take what is achievable for now versus doing without anything in the vague hope that “the perfect” will somehow happen. I recognize that “all or nothing” often means nothing, and that if nothing hurts a lot more people than something, I’ll take the something – every time. I’m someone who has bothered to read the party platform and what the candidates said when they were running. Were any of them my “ideal?” No, and I never expected them to be. If I can agree on most of what they say, and another candidate only agrees with me on a little, then I’ll take the most, recognizing that what we disagree on is not a “deal breaker.” I recognize that I will have disappointments, even serious disagreements on occasion with them. I also realize that not everyone agrees with me, and that in the legislative process that will mean problems and obstructions. I accordingly fix any “blame” where it belongs, not on a handy scapegoat. I’ve had enough experience to know that sometimes priorities clash or change, that budgets can – and will – limit what you can do, and the world has a nasty habit of reshuffling those. I’ve studied enough history to know that the great progressive advances of the past were agonizingly slow in coming, and seriously flawed when they were first passed.

    • Kenneth Ferland

      No, natural gas is not going to be transported by rail or truck, that would be the case if it were crude oil, but natural gas simply can’t be liquefied for containerized transport on anything less then LNG ship size scales. Pipelines are the only practical way to move the gas overland.

      • Exactly. What’s frustrating and amazing is how much misinformation about this stuff is put out there by people…

  • FYI, only the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is Dominion’s; the Mountain Valley Pipeline is EQT’s. Also note that the forces arguing for these pipelines include not just Dominion and EQT, but – crucially! – LiUNA, which has been a major donor to Virginia Dems like Northam.

  • Kenneth Ferland

    Northam was obviously a centrist Democrat and said he would not stop the pipeline, why are people surprised, if you wanted a someone to stop the pipeline Perrielo was who you needed to vote for.

    • Yep, which is why most of us here at Blue Virginia STRONGLY supported Perriello over Northam in the Dem primary last year. Very, very unfortunate that Tom lost.

      • Reston Renegade

        Right, because an “A” rating from the NRA just thrills liberals all over Virginia.

        Nobody is going to confuse either Perriello or Northam with Lee Carter.

    • Pragmatic Progressive

      I live in a more rural and redder part of the state. Most Democrats/liberals/progressives amongst my circle of family and friends tend to be more centrist than those in Northern Virginia or the Tidewater area.

      • Rustbelt Democrat

        Same way nationally. Most Dems in red states tend to be less liberal/progressive than most Dems in blue states.

      • Southern Liberal

        And for the record, the Democrats we know hate Trump and the GOP.

  • Roger Miller

    Hoping Northam is quiet on the pipeline issue because he sees a path to getting Medicaid expansion thru the Senate. Politics is the art of not pissing off too many people at the same time.

  • notjohnsmosby

    Most of the people complaining about Northam were Periello supporters. I think that has a lot to do with the criticism of Ralph.

    • Princess Leia

      Brings back bad memories of Bernie supporters vs. Hilary supporters.

      • notjohnsmosby

        Most Periello supporters were Sanders supporters. It’s not bad memories, it’s the current state of affairs.

        • Where on earth do you get that from? For myself, I was a strong Clinton supporter in the primaries, am not a Bernie fan particularly, but was for Tom Perriello. Same thing with many others here at Blue Virginia who supported Tom…

        • Princess Leia

          Democrats are known for being a big tent party. You have far left Democrats, moderate
          Democrats, even conservative Democrats. The Republicans, in recent
          times, have demanded more ideological purity, pushing out people who aren’t completely hardcore right-wingers. I don’t want to see the Democrats copying them.

          • Rustbelt Democrat

            Republicans have gone so far to the right that a Rockefeller Republican would no longer fit in.

  • JC

    Question from someone who doesn’t have an opinion on natural gas pipelines – what’s the actual likelihood of an explosion?

    One of the people commenting above me said that newer pipelines are failing at a much higher rate than older ones – is that actually true?

    I’ve read that natural gas leaks cause, on average, one explosion every other day in the United States, and that over the past decade, somewhere between 100 and 150 people have died from natural gas explosions. But my understanding is that the vast majority of those fatal explosions have been caused by natural gas distribution lines – whereas natural gas transmission lines (like the ACP and MVP) have only caused ten fatalities over the last several years.

    I’m pretty sure (not positive though) that natural gas transmission lines have a similar explosion rate as natural gas distribution lines, and that the huge disparity in fatality rates between them is simply due to the fact that fewer people live near transmission lines. So while, statistically speaking, people living near natural gas transmission lines probably don’t have anything to worry about (considering the low fatality rate), on a personal level, if I lived near a natural gas pipeline, my mind wouldn’t exactly be at ease, when considering the high explosion rate. The vast, vast majority of transmission line explosions may be happening in unpopulated areas, but eventually, over time, someone is probably going to die somewhere, especially if you keep building more and more pipelines – right?

    But here’s the crux of my question – out of all those natural gas explosions occurring throughout the country, how many of them involve pipelines built with modern technology?

    Regarding the ten recent fatalities caused by transmission line explosions, eight of those occurred in San Bruno – in that case, the pipeline had been built in the 1950s and had a defect in the welding, which, I’ve read, could have been prevented, had the pipeline been built with modern technology.

    I keep reading that the ACP and MVP will follow higher safety standards than previous pipelines, but I don’t recall seeing any details about what that actually means.

    This article (https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/09/23/natural-gas-pipelines/16116495/) says that “a properly coated steel pipe with cathodic protection will last virtually forever, so long as it is properly inspected and maintained.”

    Are the ACP and the MVP going to be constructed using coated, cathodically protected steel? If so, how far would that actually go towards eliminating the risk of an explosion?

    Sorry for the long, rambling post. I hope that my question makes sense. And I realize that I’m focusing on just one of many problems with natural gas pipelines – even if the ACP and MVP are unlikely to cause fatal explosions, there are still very valid concerns about eminent domain and the environment to factor in. I’ll explore those questions later, separately. For the moment, I’m just curious about the explosion risk. Can anyone point to some hard facts about this? Thanks.

    • JC

      Well, I’ve done some googling, and to answer my own question, both the ACP and the MVP will be using coated, cathodically protected steel – federal law has required all transmission lines to be built in this way since 1971. So that’s good…but it might not be good enough, considering that this type of pipeline does still explode from time-to-time, like in Alabama (http://www.demopolistimes.com/2012/02/21/corrosion-cited-in-pipeline-explosion/) and West Virginia (https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Pages/PAR1401.aspx). Both of those explosions were caused by flaws in the coating and cathodic protection system.

      If no mistakes are made during the construction of the ACP and the MVP, it *might* be that the chances of corrosion causing either of the pipelines to explode would be close to zero – but I have no idea. Even if all known causes of corrosion are prevented, there could always be other risk factors that simply haven’t been discovered yet. And there’s always the possibility that an outside force like heavy machinery could strike the pipeline, causing an explosion – they definitely haven ‘t come up with any solution to THAT yet, and it seems to happen fairly frequently.

  • Henry Howell

    Why is anyone thinking Ralph Northam is anything other than a member of the old white man’s club trained at VMI? He’s a VMI graduate who chose to go to an institution that didn’t integrate by race and gender until the courts forced his chosen school to integrate, and then it was at a snail’s pace. He’s a doctor, so of course he’s for Medicaid expansion. His fellow physicians are okay with it, so Ralph is okay with it. He’s for the environment, because his wife is for it. I don’t think he has the moral fiber to avoid those in power seducing him. He talks as a parrot, like a lot of people in bureaucracy talk. He’s always been a team player with huge bureaucracies since VMI.
    Probably before. Name one case where Ralph is a profile of courage. He may be passive aggressive, but he’s just as damaging with his aggression. I’d rather someone punch me in the face, than have that person work secretly to hurt me. He is as disappointing as any Democrat is except for Dick Saslaw. Impeach Ralph.