RICHMOND, Va. — Democrat Ralph Northam made his biggest mark in the state Senate speaking out against attempts to limit abortion rights, but he’s expanding his sights as Virginia’s next lieutenant governor.
Northam, 54, wants to build on Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s work on economic development and job creation, and carve out his own agenda on education. He’ll get a shot at it after turning back Republican E.W. Jackson on Tuesday to join Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe in Richmond next year.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, commended Bolling for doing a “great job” in an often thankless job.
“I’d like to continue his efforts to make sure we not only retain business in Virginia, but also attract new business to the commonwealth,” Northam said in an interview with The Associated Press before his election victory.
Part of that welcome mat for new business, he said, is moving away from divisive debates over abortion and gay rights, issues a majority of voters rejected by electing Northam over Jackson and his conservative social agenda.
Unofficial election results gave Northam a 55 percent to 45 percent edge over Jackson.
“We need to be all-inclusive,” Northam said. “The assault on women, the discrimination against the LGBT community — those things have to stop in Virginia if we want to move forward.”
Northam is the first Democrat to be lieutenant governor since U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine held the office until 2006.
The lieutenant governor’s campaign centered almost exclusively on social issues.
Northam defended abortion rights and championed women’s reproductive health, while Jackson embraced what he called a conservative Judeo-Christian-based platform that opposed abortion and supported the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Tuesday night, Northam thanked supporters at a hotel ballroom in Tysons Corner. He said he and McAuliffe would also work to expand Medicaid to give 400,000 Virginians health care coverage and defend women’s health choices.
“This has been a wonderful experience, campaigning across the commonwealth for the last year,” Northam said during brief remarks before McAuliffe joined him on stage.
In Richmond, Jackson sounded anything but a loser as he rallied a downcast crowd at GOP election headquarters.
Saying he was “unbroken, unbowed,” the 61-year-old lawyer-turned-preacher gave a stirring address, energizing a crowd that would soon hear from their beaten candidate for governor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Asked as he exited the stage if this was his concession speech, Jackson smiled and said, “That was a motivational, inspirational speech, which is what I always give.”
Jackson’s fiery rhetoric added a touch of drama in a usually low-key race for lieutenant governor, but much of the attention he generated was negative. Jackson’s beliefs outlined in his book “Ten Commandments to an Extraordinary Life” and statements made on the campaign were criticized as beyond the mainstream.
Jackson, for instance, compared the fight against abortion to anti-slavery efforts. Some specifics about upbringing in a foster home and his business claims were also publicly questioned.
Northam called Jackson’s conservative views on social issues divisive and wayward. The economy and jobs should be at the forefront, he said.
“That rigid ideology, there’s no place for that in Virginia,” Northam said in the AP interview.
For his part, Jackson called coverage of his campaign “completely unfair,” and he repeated that claim Tuesday night. He said his words had been twisted and said many reporters were “not comfortable” with someone whose world view is formed by Christian teachings.
The lieutenant governor presides over the state Senate and casts a ballot on tie votes. Lieutenant governors have no voice in legislative issues short of casting tie-breaking votes in the 40-seat Senate, which was evenly divided along party lines before Northam’s election as lieutenant governor.
Besides the economy, health care and mental health issues, Northam said he would also champion early education to ensure every child gets a “fair start.”
“Finally, if I could leave my mark on Virginia in any way, it would be to have access for all children to pre-K education,” he said.
Northam said he has worked with Republicans in the Senate and could do it as lieutenant governor.
“I don’t play the political game,” he said. “I’m there to do what’s in the best interests of Virginia, and I’ll continue to work with both sides of the aisle.”
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