“We will welcome people to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our lights will be on, our doors will be open”, says Northam
By Geeta Goindi
McLean, Virginia, May 22, 2018 – Addressing a packed event celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Governor Ralph Northam underscored the importance of diversity.
Citing his priorities as the 73rd governor of the state, he mentioned ensuring every Virginian is gainfully employed, all children have access to a world class education system, every resident has access to affordable and quality healthcare, lives in an environment where the air and water are clean and in safe communities where there are not guns on every street corner.
“Most importantly is that we understand our society is diverse and it is becoming more diverse every day and it is the diversity of our society that makes us great, not our current president”, Northam said taking a jibe at Donald Trump.
“We will welcome people to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our lights will be on, our doors will be open”, he added in marked contrast to the anti-immigrant rhetoric emanating from the White House.
Northam was addressing the sold-out fourth annual AAPI Heritage Month Awards Dinner organized by Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia (DAAV) at the Sapphire restaurant in Tysons Corner. A neon sign outside read Indian-Pakistani cuisine.
Inside, Northam was greeted with sustained applause by Asian Americans of various ethnicities. It was clearly his crowd of ardent supporters.
“What a great community”, he gushed. “I remind people all the time, this is not the easiest time to serve the public, but it is the most important time. You all are blessed here in northern Virginia to have such great elected officials”, he said.
On hand at the event were: Virginia education secretary Atif Qarni, a school teacher and politician who immigrated from Karachi, Pakistan, with his family in the 1980s; Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly representing Virginia’s 11th congressional district; state senator Richard Saslaw; Delegate Mark Keam representing Virginia’s 35th house district; Anne Holton, former Virginia education secretary, wife of Senator Tim Kaine (Democrat-Virginia); among others.
It is noteworthy that Democrats won big in Virginia’s statewide elections, last November, aided in no small measure by the Asian American vote and turnout.
Introducing the governor at the awards dinner, Shekar Narasimhan, founder and Chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, noted that the community voted by a higher percentage than any other group in the Commonwealth in the 2017 election compared to previous figures and “78 percent voted for Ralph Northam”, he said to loud cheers.
“Your hard work, showing up at our community events, your support of DAAV, your ability to come here and speak to us in our voice, listen to our concerns, it works. It absolutely works”, he emphasized imploring the Governor to stay engaged.
Northam expressed his appreciation for the fastest-growing ethnic group in the state and country. “To all of the Asian Americans here, I just came tonight to say, ‘Thank you for what you do for our communities, thank you for what you do for our society’. We are all in this together. We want to make sure that Virginia is the most inclusive state in this great country”, he said.
The Governor acknowledged, “I would not be standing here right now if it wasn’t for all of your support over the years, especially in 2017. Because you were willing to trust in us, to get out there and knock on doors and make phone calls, not only did we (Democrats) win all three statewide positions (governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general), but we also picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates”, he said to loud cheers.
“Because of your work, because of the change in leadership, we are on the eve of expanding Medicaid coverage here in the Commonwealth of Virginia”, he added. The state is on the cusp of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act which would extend health coverage to up to 400,000 low-income residents. Republican leaders, at one time staunchly opposed to the expansion, are now softening their tone. There is, after all, a blue wave in the state seen as a repudiation of Trumpism.
Decrying the US administration’s anti-immigration policies, Congressman Connolly spoke of his grandmother who emigrated from Ireland in 1920 with no skills except that she could sew, came to America penniless where she washed clothes and saved money eventually able to bring her mother and two brothers from their native land.
“What she did would be called chain migration, today”, Connolly said taking a swipe at the Trump administration. “I call it family reunification”, he added to applause from the audience.
The lawmaker drew attention to a discharge petition that would allow members of Congress to vote for legalizing the Dreamers (undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as youngsters). It is expected that all 193 House Democrats will sign the petition, but 25 Republicans have to join them in order for Congress to take up the issue.
After months of inaction, 20 Republicans have signed the petition. “Guess who has not signed it”, Connolly asked the AAPI gathering without naming Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock who is seeking a third term in a swing district (VA-10). “It is easy to say you are for something and do nothing about it”, Connolly bemoaned. “This is easy: put your name to the paper and help us bring that bill to the floor of the House”, he said.
Narasimhan thanked Governor Northam “for setting a tone in Richmond that it’s very hard to be anything but sensible for the citizens of Virginia. You don’t have to be a Democrat or Republican to believe in doing the right thing”, he said.