Lawmakers have been back to work in Richmond for less than a week, but Republicans say bipartisanship is already on life support.
Following his inauguration over the weekend, Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the joint assembly Monday night. The Democrat hit on familiar topics like expanding health coverage and stricter gun laws.
“This issue is not a new one for the General Assembly,” Northam told lawmakers, “But this is a new General Assembly.”
That comment, like several others, received a standing ovation from Democrats and no reaction from Republicans on the floor.
But on Tuesday morning, Republicans were loud and clear about what they thought of the speech.
House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) kicked off a press conference saying Northam’s recent words disappointed him on a “very personal level.”
“The governor talked about hope in his inaugural address,” said Gilbert. “Whatever hope we had that this was going to be a different era now is called into question.”
He said the speech was a missed opportunity to set a new tone and not what he expected from the new governor.
“That speech was so partisan that I wondered if he found it in his predecessor’s desk and just pulled it out and gave a McAuliffe speech where we hoped a Northam speech would have been,” he said.
Gilbert said he would have liked to have seen Northam focus on areas where Republicans and Democrats can work together.
“He seemed to focus on the areas where we cannot,” said Gilbert.
We asked Northam’s office for his take.
His press secretary, Ofirah Yheskel, issued this statement:
“Last night Governor Northam asked the General Assembly to find common ground on agenda to make people’s lives better by enhancing workforce training, expanding Medicaid to cover more people, preventing gun violence, and creating clean energy jobs. Those are not partisan issues, they are real problems that affect real people.
As he said last night and in his inaugural address, he is eager to begin the discussion with leaders from every political perspective about the best way to solve those problems and many others. But ‘bipartisanship’ does not mean sweeping big issues under the rug because common ground has been hard to find in the past.”
After hearing about the Republicans’ press conference Tuesday morning, House Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) said taking a stance on issues is all part of the process.
“Bipartisanship and civility have their appropriate place and they’re something that we embrace,” said Toscano. “We also have to consider these bills and take positions on bills and try to get bills passed.”
Despite the setback, Republicans say they are looking forward.
“We want to work together,” said Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “One of my hopes as Speaker is to get things done.”