This morning’s Washington Post has an interview with Governor-elect Ralph Northam that is stirring up a ton of conversation on social media and, I hear, among Virginia Democratic delegates, State Senators, politicos, etc. First, a few highlights, followed by some of the reaction that jumped out at me (bolding added by me for emphasis).
- Perhaps the part stirring up the most discussion: “Northam said he has no plans to try to force Republicans to accept a broad expansion of Medicaid. Instead, he has begun talks with lawmakers in both parties about overhauling the state’s Medicaid system to expand access to health care while better defining eligibility to control costs.”
- Northam is promising “not to try to engineer a Democratic advantage in the legislature...It has been widely assumed that Northam is considering such a move, with Republicans holding a 21-19 edge in the state Senate and incoming Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, in a position to break tie votes. But Northam ruled that out.” Note that there had been a lot of rumors and assumptions floating around that Northam would try to lure a Republican or two from each chamber (e.g., Sen. Frank Wagner) into his administration in an effort to “flip” the Senate and/or House of Delegates. Apparently not.
- Despite Democrats winning a landslide victory on November 7, including all three statewide offices and a pickup of 15 (or 16, pending recount this week) House of Delegates seats, Northam is stressing bipartisanship, working across the aisle, etc. (“Northam has been meeting with each of the freshman lawmakers, urging them to pull together — and to look beyond partisan differences. His advice to them: ‘Learn the system, number one. And really make good relationships on both sides of the aisle. . . . I’ll try to lead that.'”)
So…some reaction to this from political reporters/observers and from Virginia Democratic politicos and grassroots folks I’ve been chatting with and reading on social media this morning. (note: I reached out several hours ago to Northam’s camp for comment, but so far haven’t heard anything)
- Jonathan Martin of the NY Times tweeted, “This’ll drive some Dems up wall: Northam sez he won’t poach Rs from lege to create Dem majority, talks M’caid costs”
- Shareblue writer and long-time Democratic/progressive activist Oliver Willis tweeted, “Boo for this Northam. Quit taking the high road.” Willis followed up in a direct message to me (which he said I could quote), “[Northam]’s making the same mistake Obama did. The lesson of the last 8 years is to be ruthless at the state level not bipartisan…How ironic would it be if T Mac ended up being way more progressive in execution than Northam?”
- Another Virginia progressive activist commented to me on Northam’s quote about “I will work with the legislature that was elected by the people” was that “a majority of voters in the Commonwealth voted for a Democratic House of Delegates, but the Republicans have a majority because of gerrymandering.” This person added, “The unilateral choice to disarm wins you what?” and “Northam is like someone who gets in a street fight who declares that they will fight only by Queensbury rules as their opponent hits below the belt, pulls out a shank, has friends throwing bottles at him, etc. Sure, pretty damn honorable but hobbles himself, not going to get much done and — in this case — certainly not setting the stage for what the majority of the electorate would like to see happen.”
- Sam Stein of the Daily Beast/MSNBC tweets: “Northam’s gonna end up screwing over other Democratic candidates who now will have a portion of voters believing that their party promises big and then, immediately, under delivers…have heard from numerous Dems livid with Northam this morning.”
- Former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, now of “Pod Save America,” tweets, “I would urge Ralph Northam and his staff to clarify his Medicaid position as fast as possible or he’ll deserve the wrath he gets from Democrats everywhere. He ran on a promise to expand the program to 400,000 Virginians. Period.“
- Politico reporter Dan Diamond tweets, “The next Democratic governor of Virginia talks about Medicaid like a Republican” and retweets, “The same day Northam got elected, Maine voted to expand Medicaid by ballot initiative. It won by 20 points.“
- One leading Virginia Democrat told me “this might as well be called a ‘protect the Republican majority’ plan for 2019.”
- National Democratic political analyst Daniel Nichanian (“Taniel”) tweeted: “What a start: Northam says he won’t pressure Virginia’s shrunken GOP to expand Medicaid. He’s concerned about “obligating the state to escalate costs” & wants to ‘better define eligibility.’…This is not surprising given Northam’s past profile. But quite the message to send to energized base that gave him such a big win—esp. as few things have energized progressives more this year than Medicaid…Huge contrast between Northam & Louisiana’s Dem Gov. Edwards, who took decisive action on very first day of his term to expand Medicaid. (Northam may not have same executive powers—but that doesn’t mean he should be warning against costs of expansion!)”
- Tom Perriello tweeted, “Blocking Medicaid expansion was a major reason so many Republicans lost their House seats in VA this year. Full expansion should be bi-partisan, and every legislator in Richmond should have to cast a public vote before 2019 on a policy that is morally right & good for VA economy.”
- Carrie Pruett, who writes at Blue Virginia and who was a huge door knocker for Ralph Northam during the general election (after supporting Tom Perriello in the primary), tweeted: “If we get a clarification, I’m willing to accept that this is example # 543 of ‘Ralph Northam is very bad at talking about policy’. Which is frustrating to people who care about policy”
- Virginia progressive activist Morris Meyer tweeted, “Really? We did all this work to sit in the minority? Is this the message Virginia should send to the resistance in 2018 that when we elect folks in a landslide we should semi-adopt a Republican agenda? Completely infuriating…And telling the 15 Delegates-elect that they need to mother-may-I their agenda by the Republicans because the governor won’t give them cover is a tragic message to send to the run-everywhere movement...It also is a flashing indicator that Democrats don’t have the courage of their convictions. In this era when our democracy is being degraded daily by the GOP, our response is to bring a spork to a gunfight.”
- National progressive, LGBT activist and radio host Joe Sudbay tweets: “Lucy, please, please, please let me kick the football again. I know you’ll be fair this time…Not sure Northam ever got moment we’re in – That ad saying he’d work with Trump. Too typical of Dems to ignore their base and pretend bipartisanship exists when GOP destroyed it. He should rewatch Gillespie’s ads about him…Yes
@RalphNortham, voters are ‘looking for a moral compass right now.’ That’s why you won big. Your Voters know the GOP won’t ever provide it. You should know that, too. Watch Gillespie’s ads about you as a reminder.”
- And finally, a Virginia Dem politico told me that it is “politically incompetent” not to try to flip the Virginia House of Delegates or State Senate, that “this is a miswielding of truly historic political power in Virginia…Northam won by 9 points, massive Democratic House of Delegates gains — negotiate from strength!” Instead, this person notes, Northam “is acting like there has been no change in the legislature; I bet [Republican “Speaker Designee”] Kirk Cox is laughing at him.” On Medicaid, this person says that “now the GOP position has been publicly espoused by a Dem gov-elect who just won by 9 points,” that “this reveals Ralph’s true beliefs about health care” and that Northam “will now try to pass one of these hybrid plans that GOP governors have been enacting instead of real expansion from the first go at it.” I asked whether this person could imagine either Tim Kaine or Mark Warner acting like this if they had just been elected by 9 points and had a near-even General Assembly, and they responded, “I can’t imagine they would have come out in a pre-inaugural interview and espoused the Republican position on arguably the top issue they ran on…”
- Del.-elect Lee Carter tweeted,”Voters were clear in Nov. They want action on healthcare. Medicaid expan. is the bare minimum. It IS the compromise. Statement to follow.”
My view is that actions speak louder than words, of course, and it’s possible (let’s hope) that Northam “misspoke,” but that the WaPo interview was not encouraging at all. What do you think?
P.S. See below for video of Ralph Northam campaigning hard on Medicaid expansion (“We will move forward on expanding Medicaid so 400,000 hard-working Virginians, including 15,000 veterans…can get the healthcare they deserve”). Among other things, Northam declared, “If there’s a business person out there who wants to give away 5 million dollars a day [in Medicaid expansion money] to their competitors, I will tell you as a neurologist, they need their heads examined.”
UPDATE #1: Jay Ford, who is very close politically with Ralph Northam, responds on Facebook: “Ralph Northam has spent his entire career advocating civility & bipartisanship…He’s serious about it folks & Virginians should be proud of that. Finding a way to help expand and improve healthcare to all Virginians right away by reaching across the aisle is a move to help citizens immediately. This is the kind of leadership our country wants to believe is possible again… So lets see how it fares before we start advocating for trench warfare)”
UPDATE #2: Ralph Northam just tweeted, “I have and will continue to advocate for Medicaid expansion because it is a no-brainer for Virginia families, our budget, and our economy. We can also come together on smart policy choices that will allow us to deliver better care at lower cost.” Which is good, but doesn’t mesh with what he said in the WaPo interview…