The Corner

Politics & Policy

In 2007, Ralph Northam Used Anti-Illegal-Immigrant Rhetoric to Get Elected

An interesting campaign advertisement from 2007 brings new light to a big point of contention in the current Virginia gubernatorial race.

Ralph Northam, current Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia, first ran for elected office in 2007, challenging two-term Republican incumbent Nick Rerras for a seat in the Virginia state senate. That year, Virginia had decided to impose elevated civil remedial fees for driving offenses — including driving 20 mph over the speed limit, reckless driving, and faulty brakes — as part of a state plan to finance a $1 billion transportation package.

These new fees became a point of contention in the state-senate race, and Northam came down in opposition to them. In an advertisement during the course of the race, Northam used anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric that brings new light to some of the controversies present in this year’s gubernatorial election.

“Nick Rerras and his buddies in Richmond will say anything to stay in power,” Northam says in the ad. “They’re attacking me because I’m against abusive driver fees, fees that target Virginians but don’t go after out-of-state drivers or illegal immigrants.” Here’s the ad, from 2007:

It seems Northam believed it unfair that the state’s new remedial fees would punish Virginians for driving offenses but wouldn’t impose the same intensified penalties against non-Virginian drivers including, in his words, “illegal immigrants.” It’s worth considering why Northam was using this rhetoric at the time. Perhaps he believed that anti-immigrant sentiment in the state would make his stance on these driver fees more popular among Virginia voters, who would likely resent being charged higher fees for driving offenses when non-citizens weren’t subject to those same penalties.

(For the record, Northam went on to defeat Rerras in 2007.)

Setting aside the specific issue of these heightened driver fees, this 2007 ad is interesting in the context of the Virginia gubernatorial race, particularly because Northam’s campaign and its supporters have accused Republican candidate Ed Gillespie of using “racist dog whistles” to rile up the GOP base — referring in particular to the GOP’s candidate ads about the violent criminal gang, MS-13. Gillespie has suggested that Northam’s previously accepting stance on sanctuary cities — jurisdictions that flout federal law and protect illegal immigrants, including convicted felons, from law enforcement — could contribute to rising numbers of violent gang members in Northern Virginia.

It seems that, ten years ago, Northam didn’t have as much of a problem with using anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric to advance campaign positions.

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