OPINION — Virginia transforms quickly to a progressive state

Published 4:27 pm Thursday, April 15, 2021

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Even the most ardent opponents of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration must have some amount of respect for the magnitude of change that has been accomplished during his tenure, particularly during this last session of the General Assembly.

While the Republican members of the legislature, who typically expound upon their political philosophies on this page, have not had many good things to say about the changes brought about by the Democrat-control General Assembly, this wave of transformation has swept over the state in fairly short order. The Democrats have certainly not wasted their time in the majority fighting cultural wars about which bathroom people can use.

If you told a Virginian in November of 2006, after the state approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, that in just 15 years the state would get rid of the death penalty, legalize simple possession of marijuana and not allow discrimination due to sexual orientation it would have seemed unreal. In just a short period of time, Virginia state’s government has gone from a body beholden to the interests of tobacco companies with an unexplainable attachment to all things Confederate, to one of the most progressive states in the south.

The past year’s work has been done in the middle of the pandemic with a significant portion of state government resources being used to keep Virginian’s healthy and speed along the process of vaccinations. The era can be compared to President Abraham Lincoln’s work that kept the nation moving forward with the establishment of the income tax, the national banking system and the Pacific Railway Act which began the transcontinental railway all while forces were literally ripping the country apart.

The Northam administration has certainly not been perfect. The parole board controversy should be fully investigated. A centralized state-wide vaccination website and hotline should have gone online weeks before it actually became active and there should have been more state guidance concerning when and how schools should return to in-person learning.

Also, the disconnect between the more populated areas of Virginia such as Northern Virginia, Richmond and Tidewater and rural Virginia has grown exponentially larger. Successful state candidates in the upcoming elections will have to effectively explain to rural Virginia how this new progressive Virginia can benefit them.

But overall, this era of Virginia politics will be highlighted by the state deciding to stop killing people on death row and the decision to discontinue prosecuting charges for simple of possession of marijuana. Along with the marijuana decision comes the end of prison sentences for using the drug and the expungement of charges. 

There is still more to do.

The elimination of mandatory minimum sentencing failed this past session. It is time to get sentencing controls out of the legislature and back in the hand of judges with first-hand knowledge of the cases before them. Giving the voters an opportunity to take the same-sex marriage amendment off the books should be done. Increases to the minimum wage should continue and paid sick leave should be required of every employer.

The amount of change and speed of the process that has transformed Virginia over the past two years has proven government can make substantial changes quickly.

Now, if we could just get this type of progress and change to occur at the federal level, that would be truly transformative.

Roger Watson is editor of The Charlotte Gazette and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. His email address is Roger.Watson@TheCharlotteGazette.com.