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?


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