- Associated Press - Thursday, November 30, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia’s governor-elect is promising to unite Republicans and Democrats at the General Assembly and pass a bipartisan agenda on economic development, health care and education with broad bipartisan support.

Ralph Northam told reporters Thursday at an event sponsored by the Virginia Press Association that his victory earlier this month was due to voters’ rejection of political divisiveness in Washington and that he was pledging to unite lawmakers of both parties as governor.

“My agenda this year, and I anticipate over the next four years, will be a bipartisan effort,” Northam said.

Northam, a Democrat, rode a wave of displeasure with President Donald Trump to secure an easy victory in this month’s election. Democrats wiped out a Republican near-supermajority in the House, with final control of the lower chamber still undecided because of ongoing recounts.

As it currently stands, Republicans have a 51-49 seat majority. In the Senate, Republicans enjoy a 21-19 advantage. Past governors have tried to reshape partisan control of the General Assembly by hiring lawmakers from opposing parties. Northam said he has not offered any Republican legislators jobs in his administration, and indicated he may not.

“I’m more than willing and happy to work with the legislature that the people have voted into office,” he said.

Northam hasn’t yet released a specific legislative package for the 2018 session but said a top priority would be pursuing legislation aimed at improving the state’s economic development efforts. Other priorities include creating a new free community college program, overhauling the state’s public school standardized testing, and increasing access to early education.

He also said he’s optimistic about the chances of passing Medicaid expansion in Virginia, a long-stalled liberal priority to expand access for publicly funded health insurance to the state’s poor. Northam said he plans to emphasize the fiscal benefits of expansion, including the additional federal spending it would bring in.

“I will design a system that I think Republicans and Democrats will be satisfied with,” he said.

Republicans have steadfastly opposed Medicaid expansion, a key part of former President Barack Obama’s health care law, saying the state cannot afford the long-term costs. GOP Del. Scott Garrett, a retired surgeon, said Thursday that the state faces significant challenges with its current Medicaid system and Republican opposition to expanding the program is unchanged.

“I don’t believe the commonwealth should be in the business of false commitments,” Garrett said.

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