Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate for Virginia governor. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Laura Vozzella: Seems like the other night was a big moment when you had your last turn on the dais and you -- unless there is a special session of course. And I was really struck by the accolades from both sides -- [state Senator] Steve Newman in particular, one of the more conservative people. If you are elected, can you keep that going? You’ve seen how hard it has been for Terry McAluiffe to get anything done with the Republicans. Can you do it?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: You know I am going to do it. And that’s one of the reasons why I want to be governor is because I have been in the state legislature now for 10 years. Six years in the Senate and then the privilege of presiding over the Senate for four years as as lieutenant governor. And as I said from the dais the other night, it’s just been a tremendous privilege to serve Virginia but also to get to know each senator and their families, and I do consider them friends. I think we agree that we can disagree, but at the end of the day we know we’re there to do what’s in the best interests of Virginia. And as you remember, several years ago, you know, I passed the smoking ban in restaurants and I took on the tobacco industry, which as you know has a tremendous amount of influence in Virginia, and I did that by working with both sides of the aisle. And so, you know, I realize that I don’t have a monopoly on ideas. I do feel very strongly about my values and principles, but at the end of day I’m open-minded and I enjoy listening to other people’s agendas. And, again, discussing these issues and doing what’s in the best interests of Virginia. So it was very touching for me. You could probably tell it was very emotional, and [I]just have been working with those ladies and gentlemen for a number of years and getting to know them. And again it’s, there’s no higher honor or privilege, I don’t think, than serving the commonwealth of Virginia, and so I want to continue to do that and again really do what’s in the best interests of Virginians at the end of the day. That’s what drives me to do what I do.

Laura Vozzella: Now before we can get to bipartisan cooperation there is a little bit of soul searching within both parties.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yeah.

Laura Vozzella: I’m wondering what you -- obviously, Hillary Clinton won ...

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Right.

Laura Vozzella: ... in Virginia.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yes.

Laura Vozzella: And there are still some people in the Democratic Party that feel some angst and feel like things need to be shaken up. How do you speak to those people?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: [00:04:31] You know I think people in Virginia, Laura, at least when I travel around, are looking for two things in a leader. The first is they’re very concerned about what’s going on in Washington right now, especially with health care, especially with some of the attacks on the LGBT community, on immigrants, on women’s access to reproductive health care, on the environment, especially the Chesapeake Bay, so they want to know that there’s someone that will stand up and fight for Virginia and fight against what’s going on in Washington, and making sure that that doesn’t affect what we’re doing here in Virginia. So that’s one thing that we deal with as we go around and listen to folks. You know the other thing that people want is they want a job that they can support themselves with and their families. They want to know that their families have access to affordable and quality health care, and they want to know that their children have access to a world-class education and want to live in safe communities. They don’t want guns on every street corner in Virginia. So they want someone who has led in Virginia that knows how to get things done. The smoking ban in the restaurants is a good example of that. And it really can take Virginia to the next level. So that’s what we hear when we go around and when I talk, when I’m out on the stump, you know, I talk to those two specific issues, what’s going on in Washington and how we can take Virginia to the next level. And it resonates with people. And that’s why we’re confident that on June the 13th we feel that we’re going to win on that day and then go on to run in the general election on November 7th.

Laura Vozzella: Guns. You mentioned guns. That’s a tough issue to get compromise on. But how do you think you can do that with Republicans? You know them but beyond that ...

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yeah. I think you know one of the things I’ve been able to do over the years, Laura, is find things that we can agree on. And so for in that particular issue of guns it is very difficult in Virginia. People feel very strongly about the Second Amendment. Their rights. And so if we can find, agree on, for example, that we should have responsible gun ownership just like we have responsible use of automobiles. Nobody wants someone getting behind the wheel that shouldn’t be there. And the same is true with guns. Nobody wants someone having access to a gun that one isn’t trained or perhaps has, you know, mental issues or other things, domestic violence, or a lot of issues that people with those, people shouldn’t have access to guns. So if we can find something that we can agree on and then go from there, that’s the way that I like to do things, and as you know I have an interesting perspective on guns. I grew up on the Eastern Shore a very rural area. I grew up hunting and fishing, as did my family. But then I served in the military. I took care of wounded soldiers during Desert Storm who were on the receiving end of assault weapons. And I have seen what those do to human beings. And there’s just no excuse that we have those, in my mind, on our streets and in our society. I also as a pediatric neurologist have held 2- and 3-year-old toddlers in my arms and I’ve had to tell their parents that their children aren’t going to live, because they have picked up a loaded weapon on a bedside table, for example, and either shot themselves or shot their siblings. You know, we have smart-gun technology now. It’s 2017. I would say, what are we waiting for? And then finally in the domestic violence, one of my my favorite patients, I started seeing her when she was like 2 years old. She grew up, she was a beautiful young woman. She was married, had a 5-month-old child. Her husband had some anger management issues. They had some words one night. He pulled out a revolve,r shot her dead in front of her 5-month-old. And that’s one of the most difficult, you know, calls that I have ever taken from a mother. And so you know when you see these things in life it kind of shapes and molds how you feel about issues. And so I feel that we have a, you know, we have an issue, a challenge in Virginia with guns, too many guns. We just had the guns that were being sold in New York, and so I’ve been an advocate for one gun a month. But Virginians are looking for someone they can talk about those issues [with] and especially that can go into rural Virginia and talk about those issues, and those are some difficult areas to go into. But I remind people I ran in 2017 on those same issues in a very conservative district and I won, I was re-elected in ‘11 and I ran on those issues statewide in ‘13, and so it can be done. These are things that we can talk about. We can, again, we can agree to disagree, but at the end of the day I like to build consensus and again do what’s in the best interests of Virginia.

Laura Vozzella: So speaking of challenges the state is facing under President Trump, [who] of course has talked about laying off federal workers. He has talked about military buildup but also other cuts. How do you think you could address that?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Well starting with health care. Laura, you know we have been very frugal in Virginia with our Medicaid spending. Politically we chose not to expand Medicaid. It’s something that I fought to expand Medicaid since 2014 and we haven’t been able to get it done. We’ve done a lot of what we call managed-care Medicaid. So we’re 47th in the country now on what we spend in Medicaid. So if in Washington they do what we call a block grant, Virginia is very vulnerable, and we need to take care of those that are less fortunate than us. And what better person to have at the table than someone who understands health care and who is a physician. So health care is important. The environment is very important. As you know I have been an advocate for restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay since I’ve been in Richmond. We’ve made a lot of good progress. Now President Trump wants to take $73 million away from what we’ve been using to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay. So to answer your question, we’re going to have to be in a position in Virginia where we watch carefully what’s going on in Washington and then we’re able to make modifications, and at the end of the day we’re probably going to need to do more with less. And again that’s why we need people who are making policy that understand what’s going on in Virginia, that have been there and know how to get things done.

Laura Vozzella: I know you supported Medicaid expansion all this time. Do you, realistically, is that something you continue to push for? Is that something you think is realistic?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: I do, Laura. And you know I think that even some of my Republican friends that I talked to realize that the Affordable Care Act is going to be here to stay for at least a while. I mean we watched what happened a couple of weeks ago in Washington. They had been talking for seven years that they were going to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and then they put a plan on the table. It was absolutely pitiful. It wouldn’t have helped hardly any Virginians, and I think even the Republicans knew that it wasn’t a good plan. And especially it didn’t address the cost issue. So back to Medicaid expansion. Virginia since January of 2014 has not only been leaving on the table but sent in a significant amount of Virginian’s tax money to other states who we compete with to the tune of over $5 million a day. So we have literally given away over $10 billion that we could be using for education, for health care, for access to mental illness. All of these types of things. So from a business perspective I remind people, Laura, and you’ve probably heard me say this before, but any businessperson -- which I am. I own own our medical practice. I’m a part owner. Any businessperson that would want to give their competitors $5 million a day, I would tell him as a neurologist they ought to have their head examined. So that’s kind of where we are. And from a moral perspective we have 400,000 working -- and I usually underline the word ‘working’ -- Virginians who don’t have access to health-care coverage right now. And so that’s part of what Medicaid expansion is designed for, to give them access. And when people don’t have access to go see a provider, they can just be one medical illness away from financial ruin. And people that don’t have access to a doctor end up going to the emergency room. And there’s a time and a place for the emergency room, but it is very expensive. It’s not where preventive care takes place. And there’s got to be a better way. So we’re at -- the time of excuses is over. And so again I will bring people to the table and, I think, use reason and logic, and that’s the way I’ve done in the past on some of these issues with say, you know, let’s find a way that we can work together and get this done so that morally we’re giving or we’re taking care of these individuals and in Virginia. And from a business perspective we’re bringing that tax money back to Virginia.

Laura Vozzella: Of course Governor McAuliffe has made that argument all this time, but do you think just the fact that Republicans did fail to repeal it, at least on their first attempt, anyway, will shake things up? And that they will reconsider, because those arguments have been out there?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: I would certainly hope so, Laura. It’s all about timing and it’s all about, you know, how you communicate with people. And I think that, again, I have the respect of people and to be able to sit there and explain to them, especially regarding our budget in Virginia, how important this is, especially with what’s going on in Washington right now. Again with the things that we just talked about with health care and our environment, that you know every dollar is important and so we need to to make sure that we keep every money that we can in Virginia.

Laura Vozzella: So we are supposed to be fun, too, so they are making me ask what your guilty pleasure is, because I feel like it opens a door to Lord knows what. But what is your guilty pleasure?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: You know, I don’t know if I’d have a, say I have any guilty pleasures. But you know having grown up on the Eastern Shore, anything that I can do on the water I love, and especially fishing, and I used to do a lot of offshore fishing and I miss that. I’m also very active physically, so I like to run. I like to ride my bike. And, you know, just spend time with my family and my wife.

Laura Vozzella: And I think you touched on this earlier but back when you were a boy, what did you see yourself wanting to do? What did you want to be when you grew up?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yeah, you know, anything that was fast I liked on the Eastern Shore, whether it was boats -- I mean we use race boats. My brother and I had a stock car, a race car in high school. So I’d always wanted to fly jets. And so when I went to VMI out in Lexington, I was in the Navy ROTC and signed up to fly F-18s. And after about a year they decided to give me a vision test, which was a good idea, and said that, you know, Northam can see 10 feet in front of the cockpit, so you’re not going to be flying the F-18. And so I became a biology major, went to medical school. And because the Army had a little bit different path to doing your training and then giving back as part of your commitment, I switched to the Army. So here I was, I grew up on the water. I love the water. I was going to be in the Navy and I ended up in foxholes.

Laura Vozzella: And I know you fix cars, classic cars. Tell us about that a little?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: You know, Laura, I took a course in high school on small-engine repair, and it was a trailer that they brought through for vocational and technical training. And so I took the course and we learned how to take apart and rebuild lawn-mower engines, chain saws. And then they had a program on the Eastern Shore to kind of clean up the countryside where they were going in and collecting dilapidated cars and then crushing them. And I saw one. It was a 1953 Oldsmobile, and I just liked the lines of it. The windows were out of it. The motor, the engine was frozen up. It wouldn’t turn over. But I asked him, I said, ‘Can I have that car?’ And they said yes. And so I started rebuilding it. I took the engine apart and redid that and then did the bodywork and the upholstery. And anyway it’s, I restored that in high school and that was the car that I used to drive. And I still have that today and I used it in parades. And then going back to liking fast cars. I restored a 1969 Corvette, which I sold when I was in Texas. And then just recently I’ve completed a 1971 Corvette convertible red blacktop 454 four-speed.

Laura Vozzella: Are you keeping that car?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: I do. I keep that in the garage, and the only time that that goes out is it’s on a trailer so it looks like it just came off the showroom floor.

Laura Vozzella: Well, obviously you weren’t expecting a real primary fight.

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yes.

Laura Vozzella: What do you make of that? Why does someone think there is an opening?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yeah. You know, Laura, you’ve been around me long enough. I’m a glass-is-half-full person. You know we were focused on the general election on November the 7th and then Tom [Perriello] entered the race in early January. And you know we talked when he called me, and we’re going to be positive about this. I think this will give Virginians an opportunity to know me a little bit better [and] obviously know him. It will help with our name recognition, which is very important in the general election. And so we’re going to be positive about this. There are good things about primaries. As you know sometimes it puts people in awkward positions. But I think that there is so much energy and so much enthusiasm across Virginia right now because of the campaign that we watched in 2016. And so people are coming up wherever we go around the commonwealth and, you know: “What can I do to get involved? How can I help what we watched in 2016? We’re not going to except that it’s the new normal.” So I think whoever gets out of the primary, and we’re confident that we will come out positively, will be in a very good position to run in the general election in November. And the other thing that I like to emphasize to people across the commonwealth, this is not only important for the governor’s race, the attorney general and lieutenant governor’s race, but with this energy we have a great opportunity this year to pick up a lot of delegate seats. And so you know when we go back and talk about the principles and values that are important to us, it’s certainly a lot easier when you can play offense and not have to play so much in defense, when you can become proactive rather than reactive. So we look forward to 2017 being a good year for the Democratic Party.

Laura Vozzella: What do you make of the primary contest on the Republican side?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: You know we’re pretty wrapped up right now in what we’re doing in the Democratic primary, and I see bits and pieces. I see them mixing it up some and, but, I, you know, people ask me sometime, Laura, who would I like to run against in the general election, and I feel like we contrast with all three of them. I can compete with all three of them. And I use the analogy, it’s kind of like Friday-night football. I know there’s going to be someone on the other side of the field. And it’s going to be my team’s job to prepare and get ready for that team, and we feel like we will be ready for them.

Laura Vozzella: Now one thing that has interested me is Corey Stewart is clearly running a Trump Mini-Me and Ed Gillespie is trying to walk a more narrow line on that, at least so far if you believe polls, and maybe you dont, but the Trump message doesn’t seem to be resonating. Gillespie seems to be far ahead. Do you find that suprising at all? I know you weren’t a Trump supporter

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: That’s correct.

Laura Vozzella: He did win the primary here in Virginia. Do you wonder about that? Or do you wonder if he ever has any appeal?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Well you know, Laura, you know I think he touched, you know, people across the country when he said he was going to make America great again and get their jobs back. And I really think that the more you watch, the people across this country were sold a bill of goods and a lot of the things that he talked about, I think he had difficulty telling the truth on some of them, which is unfortunate. And I think there are a lot of things that he said that he just can’t, he can’t deliver on. And so his, you know, his popularity rating is continuing to decline. The last I saw was I think 37 or 38 percent. So there are some, I suspect, Americans and Virginians in our case that are still on board with him, obviously. But I think the majority are wondering, you know, what, who did we vote for? And was that the right thing to do? And now we’re seeing a lot of voters’ remorse out there, and again that’s why there’s so much energy that we see and enthusiasm, especially in our party. You know sometimes after a presidential election there’s complacency and people don’t vote the year after. But I think you’re going to see a different story in November this year, and again I think it’s a great time for Democrats, not only at the state level but also these delegate races as well.

Laura Vozzella: Now there was a lot of attention paid a few weeks back when you mentioned you had voted for George W. Bush. Can you talk about why you supported him and what you make of the fact that people were so surpised by that?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Yeah. You know a New York Times reporter asked me that in an interview, and you know my response to him was that I did vote for Bush and I explained to him that, you know, back in those years I was starting my medical practice, I was doing a lot of work with our pediatric hospice. And I was uninformed politically. I didn’t pay that much attention. I always knew it was a good idea to vote, and I encouraged everybody to vote. Obviously knowing what I know now, it was the wrong vote. He doesn’t really, he didn’t and doesn’t stand for the values and principles that I do. And since I’ve been in public service for the last 10 years I’ve been unwavering on the issues to include access to women’s reproductive health care. And, you know, responsible gun ownership and environmental issues, such as I’ve always argued against offshore drilling. And so I haven’t wavered and I think people will realize that it’s not that important who I voted for 17 years ago. It’s what I’ve stood for and what I’ve accomplished since I’ve been in public service. And the last thing I would say about that, Laura: I went to VMI. I was the president of the honor court. Honor is probably the most important thing to me. And when that journalist asked me that question I could have danced around that issue -- nobody knew who I voted for in that polling booth -- or could have not told the truth, but I chose to tell the truth. I think people should understand that our leaders need to be honest with people, and that’s the kind of leader that I’ve always been and that I will continue to be as the next governor in Virginia.

Laura Vozzella: Do you regret that vote, though? Or are there things about George W. Bush that you still feel were honorable?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Well again they’re just, you know, the things that I believe in so strongly and I would especially, like the women’s reproductive issues, you know, certainly protecting the LGBT community, making sure that they’re not discriminated against. Those are things that the Republican Party, you know, doesn’t agree with, what I just said, and so you know, again, do I regret it? I regret it in that, you know, knowing what I know now, it was the wrong vote. But you know, time moves on and I explain to people where as we move on in life, you know, we have experiences that mold and shape what we believe and feel strongly about. And again, who I voted for 17 years ago, I don’t think people are real worried about that. They want to know what I’ve done in Virginia as a public servant and what I want to do as the next governor.

Laura Vozzella: One thing I know you mentioned the other day, when Ed Gillespie unveiled his ethics proposal, you had talked about how you had supported that since before the McDonnell scandal. Can you talk about what you think can get changed and what should be changed?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: It’s a great question, and I’ve been part of ethics reform in Virginia when I was in the Senate and have certainly supported ethics reform as lieutenant governor. We’ve had numerous bills, Laura, that have been presented from the Democratic side of the aisle that are actually quite similar to what Mr. Gillespie is talking about doing. And you know it’s like, well, why were, you know, why weren’t those bills important or relevant back then? But you know it’s interesting when I started in health care as a medical student, you know, I watched doctors that were being taken all around the country, down in the Caribbean, fancy restaurants, and it was interesting to watch. They, a particular medicine usually would be promoted, and it was interesting to see when these doctors returned from those trips the peak of what they were prescribed, and it was what they had just been talking about on these trips. So that has evolved to the point where now I don’t even take as much as a writing pen from a pharmaceutical company. So that influence from the pharmaceutical company to me as a physician has stopped. Wouldn’t it be nice to do that same evolution in politics and get a lot of the money out of it, because there’s a tremendous amount of money and influence in politics now, so if I have anything to do with it the first step will be nonpartizan redistricting. And so that’s important for 202. It’s important for the folks to know about. And then the next thing that we need to work on his campaign finance reform. So those are two areas that I feel very strongly about.

Laura Vozzella: Would you want to see actual limits?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam: Well you know one thing, Laura, I mean the sky’s the limit in Virginia. I mean a person or a corporation can write a check for as much as they want, and I think that’s a bit much. And again I have lived this in health care and it’s very good now as a physician. You know I’ve talked to the pharmaceutical companies when they come in. But it’s nice to be able to say, you know, I don’t accept meals, I don’t accept trips, I don’t except pens, I don’t accept anything. So I’m going to do what I think is best for health care. And it would be the same in policymaking. I’m going to do what’s best for the people of Virginia and, you know, take the influence away from some of the big businesses.