The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

With the New Year upon as and as we reckon the anniversary of the insurrection of January 6, it is important to step back and recognize that in Virginia, we have a lot to be grateful for as a Commonwealth. As Chief of Staff to Governor Northam for the past eight years, essentially serving as the Chief Operating Officer for the Commonwealth these past four, I hold a unique vantage point from which to offer these observations of gratitude. 

Every year in Virginia we hold elections, and the past two have certainly been high profile, seeing Virginia vote for President Biden last year, and this year for Governor-elect Youngkin. Our election officials and volunteers across the Commonwealth are hardworking, professional, and deserve our praise. We run efficient and transparent elections and respect the results. To Governor Northam’s and Governor-elect Youngkin’s credit, they have set the tone for a respectful and smooth transition of power. I thank both Governors and their staffs for reminding not only Virginia, but also the United States, that a peaceful transition where we work together for the sake of all our residents is the norm in our democracy, not the exception.

Over the past couple of weeks, Governors Northam and Youngkin sat alongside one other to honor Governor Linwood Holton at his funeral service, and then just days later, donated blood together through the American Red Cross. A return of civility to our public square is needed now more than ever, and these actions are worthy of our collective gratitude. 

I am thankful that Virginia’s economy is as strong as it has ever been. We have treated workers well and kept our business fundamentals strong, showing that when you treat people right, it is also good for business. Business Facilities recently named Virginia the best state in the country for overall business climate, and no state has ever been named the best state for business by CNBC in successive years, except Virginia— we have now held that distinguished title for three years running. These accolades are all about results, with the Commonwealth working with the private sector to team up for a record $80 billion being invested in Virginia, resulting in over 100,000 new jobs— including the largest single jobs announcement in Southwest Virginia in a generation (a glove manufacturing headquarters, bringing 2,500 jobs to Wythe County). We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, are on track to be one of the first states to achieve universal broadband, are a national leader in solar and offshore wind, and are at the top of the national rankings for workforce development and education. 

Our strong economy means a record amount of revenue, and we are now having healthy discussions about how best to structure the state’s next two-year budget. Leaders agree on a wide range of issues — supporting our teachers, public safety officers, investing in our mental health system and the environment, and providing thoughtful tax relief. Call me old fashioned, though this is why I signed up decades ago to commit the better part of my life to public service— instead of name calling, actually taking part in civil debates centered around a common goal of continuing to move our state forward. And it sure beats the alternative—trying to figure out how to cut budgets in the time of economic hardship. It is a blessing we are able to have these debates about how best to invest record revenues.

Covid-19 has been tough on everyone. We all know a loved one, friend, or co-worker who has passed away due to this virus. For me, during this school year, my child’s teacher succumbed to the illness, and in all, over 15,000 Virginians have passed away due to Covid-19. Each death is a tragedy, though we should be thankful Virginia has not suffered more additional deaths. We have the highest vaccination rate in the South, one of the highest in the country. We are the only state with a physician who serves as Governor, and have one of the lowest death rates per capita. If our death rates were similar to many other states, we would literally have thousands more Virginians to grieve. I am grateful that Virginians have done their part in rolling up their sleeves and getting vaccinated, and I know we can keep this going through education, outreach, and acknowledging facts and science. 

Lastly, our state workforce number over 120,000. These individuals do everything from clearing our roadways to working in our jails and prisons to literally putting shots in arms. Elected officials and appointed ones, like me, come and go. Our state employees keep the trains running on time and work from one administration to the next, doing incredible work irrespective of which political party is in leadership. Over the last four years we’ve raised employees’ salaries, put in place one of the most generous leave policies of any state in the country if you birth, adopt or foster a child, instituted a 529 contribution program, a one-time loan repayment incentive, an employee recognition program, and traveled the Commonwealth honoring employees with long tenures in state government. Therefore, with a grateful heart, I offer the following two words of gratitude to our talented and hardworking state workers that they do not hear nearly enough: thank you.

Mercer is chief of staff to Gov. Ralph Northam.