Ralph had my back — he’ll have yours, too

How Ralph Northam helped me pass the Virginia smoking ban

By Tim Kaine

I was governor when Ralph Northam was elected to the Virginia State Senate in 2007. You know how sometimes, you just get a sense for people? That their heart is in it for the right reasons, and they’re going to work their hardest to get the job done? I had that feeling about Ralph. In his first two months there, I had him in my office, and I told him, “Ralph, I want you to be governor one day.” I’ve worked with a lot of public servants — a lot of people I think are fantastic — but I don’t remember saying that to many other people.

That’s a big reason why, when I wanted to pass a commonwealth-wide smoking ban in restaurants, I enlisted Ralph’s help. Secondhand smoke was hurting millions of Virginians, but especially kids and restaurant staff — imagine your livelihood being dependent on breathing in toxic air. Cancer deaths in Virginia had been higher than the national average — the Virginia Department of Health estimated that secondhand smoke was responsible for 1700 deaths each year — and kids exposed to secondhand smoke get sick twice as often as those who aren’t. We couldn’t afford not to act.

Ralph was committed to working across the aisle to unite Democrats and Republicans to get things done in Richmond. And because of his background as a pediatrician, he knew all too well the effect of secondhand smoke on our kids, so I asked him to put together a senate bill outlawing smoking in restaurants.

It wasn’t easy: The tobacco industry tried to stop us, and our 2008 bill failed. But Ralph didn’t give up. In 2009, he came right back and introduced it again.

This time, it passed.

Signing that bill was one of my proudest moments as governor, and just like he had been through the whole process, Ralph stood next to me at a restaurant in Virginia Beach for the ceremony.

Here I am signing the smoking ban. That’s Ralph right behind me. He’s a guy who always has your back!

Today, cancer deaths are down in Virginia — and below the national average. I believe with all my heart that this law is saving lives. It’s still one of my proudest accomplishments as governor — and I’m so grateful to Ralph for helping make it happen.