RICHMOND — Houdon’s marble statue of George Washington in the Capitol Rotunda was decorated with greenery Friday and the grounds echoed with microphone checks as workers prepared for Saturday’s inauguration of Democrat Ralph Shearer Northam as Virginia’s 73rd governor.
Northam, a Democrat, rode a wave election last fall in which his party smashed two decades of Republican dominance in the House of Delegates and kept control of the lieutenant governor and attorney general seats.
Justin Fairfax, a former U.S. attorney from Fairfax County, will be sworn in as lieutenant governor — replacing Northam in that role. He becomes only the second African American elected statewide in Virginia history, after former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. And Mark Herring will kick off his second term as attorney general.
They’ll work with a legislature still controlled by Republicans but with Democrats just shy of parity, the House split 51-49, the state Senate at 21-19.
The General Assembly kicked off its session on Wednesday with broad calls for cooperation after a political season inflamed by partisan passions over theTrump administration. Although the fall election’s outcome was drawn out by state-funded recounts and vote challenges in close districts, the House managed to set aside rancor this week and unanimously elect Republican M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) as Speaker.
Outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, called for unity in his final State of the Commonwealth speech Wednesday night. Prohibited by the state Constitution from serving a second consecutive term, McAuliffe will hand over the Executive Mansion to his friend and chosen successor, Northam. Moving vans were spotted outside the mansion Friday.
Before being lieutenant governor, Northam, 58, spent six years in the state Senate representing Norfolk and the Eastern Shore. A pediatric neurologist and Army veteran, he grew up in Onancock, making him only the second governor in state history to hail from the remote Eastern Shore.
By the beginning of this week, Northam had raised an estimated $1.9 million for festivities related to the inauguration, although final figures will not be reported until March.
Among the major individual donors are nursing home executive W. Heywood Fralin, developer Bruce Thompson, philanthropist Karen Schaufeld, business executive John Wynne and retired chief executive Gilmer G. Minor III — each of whom gave $50,000, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
The biggest corporate donors include Dominion Energy and tobacco giant Altria, which both gave at least $50,000. Two associations — the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association and the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association — each gave $35,000, according to VPAP.
Swearing-in ceremonies will start at noon on the portico of the Thomas Jefferson-designed Capitol. Risers for some 4,000 expected guests have been under construction on the lawn for more than two months.
The inauguration grandstands will feature representatives from every locality in Virginia — a first, according to Northam’s office — and three UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the Virginia National Guard will conduct a flyover of the inaugural parade.
Starting just after the swearing-in, the parade will feature 26 groups from across the state, including the Soul Squad marching band from Freedom High School in Prince William County; 30 fiddlers from Southwest Virginia known as the Crooked Road Fiddler Army; and Deborah Pratt, billed as the fastest oyster shucker in Virginia.