NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — On the first weekday since he left office, 10 On Your Side met former Gov. Ralph Northam at his medical practice Children’s Specialty Group in Norfolk.
“Looking good, Dr. Northam, I presume,” WAVY’s Andy Fox said. Northam was quick to answer with his always polite, “yes, sir.”
We reminded him it is the first time we have referred to him as a doctor and not governor, as Virginians have done over the last four years.
“It’s good to be back in 757,” he responded.
Once Glenn Youngkin was sworn in as the 74th governor, Northam and his wife Pam were escorted out of the ceremony, as is tradition for the outgoing governor. It is a tradition, but Northam hadn’t given it much thought on why it became a tradition. Some critics argue it looks dismissive of the outgoing governor like “out with the old and in with the new.”
“After we left, we went out and got in the Suburban and had one last ride with state police, and they brought Pam and me back to our home in Norfolk,” Northam said.
It is a courtesy afforded the outgoing governor to get a ride home from the inauguration.
“It has to be somewhere in Virginia, so we can’t go to Disney World,” Northam said with a big laugh, which obviously led to the well-known line associated with sports events, “Hey, Governor Northam, you’re no longer governor. Where are you going now?” which led to even more laughter.
Northam, a pediatric neurologist, hasn’t seen patients in five years. He jokes, wondering who would want to be his first patient.
“Today we are dealing with children with language disorders, and they fell into the autistic spectrum,” he said.
Every day as governor, Northam was the center of attention. Today, his attention is given to others.
“It’s interesting to be back at the bedside, if you will. I’ll be listening to indviduals’ stories, listen to their complaints, and then do what we can to help. That is what we do as doctors,” Northam said.
He’s back training and learning new things.
“I’m getting up to speed with the computers, electronic medical records, and it’s been a good morning so far,” Northam said.
Northam has run for office six times dating back to 2007 and has never lost. There is an emptiness that his service is now over. All of a sudden, Northam is no longer “the guy.”
“It is kind of interesting. The feelings are the same feeling I had leaving VMI,“ he said, referring to Virginia Military Institute.
Fearing that emptiness, Northam says he immediately came back to work after leaving office.
“This is one of the reasons I wanted to get back to my practice. I didn’t want that feeling ‘Oh what is going on, is there something I should be doing for the commonwealth?’” he said.
Out of habit Sunday morning, he got out of bed and read the new COVID-19 numbers.
“You know, every day I have been looking at COVID numbers and the number of new cases and those in the hospital, and I still looked at it Sunday when I woke up, and I said guess what, I’m not in charge anymore,” he said.
Here is how Northam’s life has changed: He was in charge when thousands got stranded on Interstate 95 due to an ice and snowstorm. Some were stuck in their cars overnight for up to 26 hours.
He was not in charge Sunday morning when winter storms shut down Interstate 81 in southwest Virginia, stranding hundreds,
“I am not in charge anymore, so someone else is taking care of it,” he said.
We also asked about the picture that appeared on his medical school yearbook page that nearly derailed his administration. When the photo surfaced, Northam first apologized that he was in the picture, then upon time and reflection, said it was not him.
Northam says he is 99% sure who it was. We asked why he isn’t 100% sure.
“Well because people are not cooperating, and I don’t blame them after watching what I went through,” he said.
After the interview and off-camera, Northam admitted to us that he actually does not know how to do Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, which he offered to do at the news conference where he told reporters that upon further reflection he was not in the blackface picture found on his yearbook page. His wife, Pam, then reminded him it was “inappropriate circumstances,” sparing the performance of the attempted moonwalk.
More importantly, though, Northam is proud of how that picture changed his legislative direction.
“That was a very hurtful time, and I regret that. I committed myself to the inequities of access to health care, voting, and business opportunities,” he said.
We also spoke to the former governor about his successor.
“We are proud of what we have been able to accomplish, and at the same time, a little bit worried. We want to make sure that the progress we have made continues,” Northam said.
That is in doubt: At Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s inauguration, he referred to Executive Order No. 1.
“Parents should have a say in what is taught in schools,” he said to loud applause, referring to divisive concepts like Critical Race Theory.
The Virginia Department of Education has said repeatedly that critical race theory is not part of the commonwealth’s K-12 curriculum.
Northam continued the talking point.
“It is not taught in K-12 education, and there is a lot of anger and fear, which are strong emotions and there was a lot of that used in the previous campaign,” Northam said.
Youngkin also said during his inaugural speech, “Our common path froward is also forged with a deep and binding respect for individual freedom.”
Executive Order No. 2 allows parents to decide if their child wears a mask in school.
Northam’s policy was to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which recommends wearing masks.
“That’s what we went with, and the legislature introduced a law. It’s in our books to follow CDC guidelines. It’s really clear in my mind [that is the right way to go],” Northam said.
During his inaugural address, Youngkin also referred to Executive Order No. 6: “Virginia is open for business.”
The former governor takes exception to that. Under his lead, Virginia was named the best state to do business, again.
“I would say we have been open for business. We have the strongest economy that we have ever seen…$2.6 billion surplus, and a record amount we have in our reserve fund,” Northam said.
Youngkin’s Executive Directive No. 2 rescinds the vaccine mandate for all state employees, which number about 100,000.
We reminded Northam that Youngkin is basically saying Northam is wrong in his strategy.
Northam adamant he is right, “Look, the only way to get the pandemic behind us is to roll up sleeves and take a shot.”
The former governor says he will never run for political office again, and he is comfortable just going back to what he was doing before it all began. He will continue working with children who are in desperate need of his help.