Governor Ralph Northam is my governor. I voted for this man. I shook his hand. He works across the street from me. He fights to end the opioid epidemic. He fights for women’s rights. He expanded Medicaid in Virginia. He has enacted programs that will change my patients’ lives. As a fellow physician, I was never so proud of a governor in my state.
I think of him often as I work in my addiction clinic in Richmond. Our clinic is open thanks to financial incentives he helped create for treating addiction. Before we opened, there were almost no clinics in the city offering medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder without a high cash price attached to it. Many of my patients campaigned for Northam and proudly told me how they rallied dozens of never-voters to the polls to vote for him, because addiction treatment turned their lives around, and they knew Northam would help more people get treatment.
I am privileged to hear my patients’ stories of how discrimination has impacted their lives and medical care. What will I hear from them in the office this week? I wonder how the unveiling of another racist white person in power will change how they view me: their white physician who is often in a position of power with them. Will they always look at white leaders with an even higher degree of suspicion, the same way Trump’s election left me with a lingering distrust for men in power?
A person who is associated with such a hurtful and despicable photo should not be allowed to lead, either. He can apologize, work to change himself, do good work for the people he wronged. He can be remembered for more than his worst deed, but he does not get to govern us.
Someone else will have to do Northam’s good work now. We cannot allow this to be explained away, overlooked, or minimized. No matter how much I admired him, or how he has changed my patients’ lives, most of my patients are Black. I owe it to them as a physician and Democrat to say “no” and “goodbye.”
Megan S. Lemay is an internal medicine physician.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com