Gov. Ralph Northam gave his second State of the Commonwealth address on Wednesday, sharing his vision to continue building a “stronger, fairer and more equitable Virginia.” But one Valley lawmaker was not in agreement with the governor's remarks.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, took to Twitter on Wednesday night to share his thoughts on the address that touched on climate change, raising the minimum wage, investing in broadband and gun rights.
“It is definitely a different tone being set by the governor — one of which he has laid out a bunch of liberal priorities he expects to pass,” Obenshain said during an interview Thursday. “It was ambitious, but a lot of what I would have expected in California, not Virginia.”
Obenshain has been serving in the Senate since 2004 and has seen his party gain and lose control of the House of Delegates and Senate.
After the November election, Democrats gained control of the House, Senate and governorship, changing the leadership dynamic for the 2020 General Assembly session, which began on Wednesday.
“Virginia is changing. These are simply facts,” Northam said. “In politics, over these past 10 years, if you understood these facts, and you embraced change, then you advanced. If not, you fell behind.”
Northam said Wednesday that the General Assembly reflects what Virginia sees every day, adding that it was a historic night.
“The changes in this General Assembly reflect the changes in Virginia,” Northam said. “Virginia has grown by 600,000 people since then. That’s like adding a new Richmond and a new Virginia Beach, in just a decade.”
When asked what stood out in Northam's address, Obenshain said, “I could go through a laundry list of items.”
Northam began his speech by diving into the state’s economy and how unemployment statewide had dropped to record lows.
“That’s good, and we need to keep this momentum going,” Northam said. “But wages haven’t kept up. Too many people are underemployed, and we can’t ignore that fact.”
Obenshain wrote on Twitter Wednesday saying, “Our liberal Governor is celebrating Virginia’s roaring economy… but doesn’t give credit to [President Donald Trump].”
The senator also mentioned on Twitter that Northam paid tribute to the free market, but wanted the government to meddle more in business decisions.
The conversation quickly transitioned into raising the minimum wage.
“Virginians want a well-paying job and the chance to get ahead,” Northam said. “… Low unemployment means competition for workers. But just because you have a job doesn’t always mean you can survive on it. The people who are building our economy should benefit from it too. The companies that recognize this will get ahead. So let’s work together to raise the minimum wage.”
Obenshain does not support raising the minimum wage.
“When you look at minimum wage, it largely impacts the youth and minority workforce,” Obenshain said. “There is a bug impact in terms of viability of businesses who rely on youth workers, like restaurants.”
For Obenshain, the increase in minimum wage would have a ripple effect on businesses.
Another topic of Northam’s speech that stood out to Obenshain was electricity.
“We aim to have 30% of Virginia’s electricity come from renewable sources in this next decade, and to make it 100% carbon-free by 2050,” Northam said. “We’re on track to achieve this clean energy goal. And know this: We’ll get there sooner if technology advances faster, and if we can keep rates affordable. I’m pushing the energy companies to do just that.”
Obenshain said Northam would be increasing the mandate on public electricity and have ratepayers pay more to promote some of Northam’s initiatives, such as green energy.
While Virginia has made advances in wind and solar power, Obenshain said he was worried of the impact it would have on Virginians.
“It will hurt a lot of our citizens across Virginia, like Page County,” Obenshain said. “There are some people paying $400 to $500 a month in electric to keep their home. … It’s heartbreaking. They become stuck in this cycle and can’t afford to get out.”
Finally, it wouldn’t be a State of the Commonwealth address without the Second Amendment.
“Gun safety is another issue,” Obenshain said.
Northam started his lengthy discussion of gun safety remembering the May shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 people and led to his calling a special session to take immediate action.
“I proposed eight commonsense measures, designed to keep firearms away from dangerous persons. But there was no action. The measures I proposed did not receive a hearing,” Northam said. “Virginians watched. They saw what happened and they were appalled. So they changed the legislature. And here we are.”
Obenshain said the gun safety legislation being proposed would “turn tens to thousands of Virginians into felons.”
“Guns that are just common guns would be classified as assault weapons and that is just wrong,” he said.
Northam said the gun safety measures being proposed are “fully consistent with the Second Amendment,” adding that every proposal passed constitutional muster.
“I want to reiterate: This commonsense legislation does not violate the Second Amendment,” Northam said. “No one is calling out the National Guard. No one is cutting off your electricity or turning off the internet. No one is going door to door to confiscate guns. These laws are intended to keep Virginians safe. Period. It’s time to act.”
Obenshain said he hopes Virginia will celebrate its successes and not follow the footsteps of New Jersey or California, adding that he “hopes we will not lose sight of the many things we have done.”