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Northam addresses Virginia Young Democrats Convention at U.Va.

Sen. Tim Kaine also kicks off re-election campaign in Charlottesville over the weekend

Northam spoke about issues such as education, gun control and healthcare and emphasized the significance of political action by young democrats.
Northam spoke about issues such as education, gun control and healthcare and emphasized the significance of political action by young democrats.

Gov. Ralph Northam spoke Saturday morning as part of the annual, three-day Virginia Young Democrats Convention. The Virginia Young Democrats is the official youth branch of the Democratic Party of Virginia. Over the course of the weekend, the Young Democrats attended trainings and workshops, elected officers and heard from different speakers. The 2018 convention was the largest VAYD convention in many years and hosted at the University for the first time since 2009. 280 people from 30 different chartered clubs attended the conference. 

Northam was one of many notable Democrats who gave speeches throughout the weekend. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) kicked off his 2018 Senate campaign Saturday at an event at The Haven in downtown Charlottesville. Kaine confirmed he will not be running for president in 2020 but rather will focus on what he can accomplish in Congress. The 2018 Senate campaign is Kaine’s first since the defeat of the Clinton-Kaine campaign in 2016, when he served as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential candidate.

State Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Springfield) and House of Delegates Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) were also in town for the conference and addressed the University Democrats Friday.

The location of the convention is decided based on applications. Jimmy Lewis, president of the Virginia Young Democrats, said it was particularly resonant for the convention to take place in Charlottesville this year in light of the events that occured Aug. 11 and 12 when white nationalists marched through Grounds with torches and held the fatal Unite the Right rally the following day. 

“This year, we’re focusing on advancing racial justice and supporting marginalized communities,” Lewis said. “To be a counter balance to [what happened in August] … To be here with progressive values, values of inclusion.” 

In his short address, Northam spoke about issues such as education and healthcare. He said it was important the young dems continued to push legislators to expand available access. 

A pediatric neurologist and former lieutenant governor of Virginia, Northam was elected governor in November. The theme for this year’s convention was “Our Voice.” Northam thanked the young Democrats for their political work so far and emphasized the importance of young people continuing to be actively involved.

Mary Alice Kukoski, a second-year College student and president of the University Democrats, organized the event and started planning for it in January. Kukoski said it was particularly exciting to have Northam come and speak following his election in November. 

“Seeing him come back and talk about the great work that he is doing down in Richmond and talk about how important … our voice as young Dem[ocrat]s, as millennials, is was really empowering,” Kukoski said. “It was really great to hear that he cares about the issues we care about and that we are all united here.”  

With regards to medical care, Northam spoke about increasing access to coverage and making health care more affordable.

“No individual, no family should be one medical emergency away from financial ruin. Not in the richest country in the world,” Northam said. “Right now, we have 4,000 working Virginians who don’t have access to coverage … I encourage you all to encourage legislators to do the right thing and make sure all Virginians have access to affordable healthcare.”

Many of his statements received loud applauses from the audience. Seth Davis, a sophomore from James Madison University, said he was particularly excited to hear Northam talking about the importance of diversity. 

“I loved everything Northam said, especially when he started talking about changes in diversity and empowering women and pushing them to pursue legislative roles,” David said. “That was really important.”

Northam also spoke on the issue of gun control. He referenced incidents of gun violence, such as the killing of 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas and the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech which resulted in 33 deaths, and said it was time to enact change. 

“People want to live in safe communities where there are not guns on every street corner,” Northam said. “I am so proud of young people for standing up. You know it’s time we move past talking about prayers and thoughts and time for us to take action because enough is enough and we all need to work together.”

Northam reiterated the important role the Young Democrats played in the outcome of the elections in November and said he wanted to use that energy going forward.

“I am so encouraged, because folks like you, millenials, have stood up, and said enough is enough,” Northam said. “We’re going to take the Commonwealth back, and we’re going to take this country back. So, we’re going to have a good year in ’18, ’19, and ’20 and as long as we’re here.” 

Lewis said he was pleased with Northam’s speech, noting it was important for the young Democrats to see how their actions have had an impact. 

“For Northam to have a chance to come back and say thank you and also to say: ‘This is what I’m doing with the faith you put in me with this office, and this is what we’re fighting for in Richmond,’” Lewis said. “I think that [Northam’s] remarks really helped put that all together in a way that people can see that every door they knocked, every phone that they called had an impact, and it’s still having an impact right now.”