Uh oh, Youngkin Meant What He Said!
Virginia's new governor signals that his campaign promises were for real and he intends to keep them all. Woe to those who get in the way.
Two unique characteristics partially define the Commonwealth of Virginia’s governor. First, he (or she, although no woman has yet been elected governor) is elected in odd-numbered years. And second, he serves only for a single four-year term. Governors here cannot run to succeed themselves (but they can try to run again later, as former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe tried and failed to do in 2021).
That may give some partisans in the losing party hope that a new governor might not govern as promised. Perhaps “legacy mode” kicks in on Day One. There’s no political pressure to deliver other than mid-term (also odd-year) state legislative elections.
After all, much to the delight of partisan progressives, Joe Biden hasn’t come close to governing as he promised in his inaugural address, to “end this uncivil war” with themes of “unity” and “healing.” How has that worked out? Biden’s steaming hot mess of a speech in Atlanta, comparing many Americans and US Senators to Bull Connor, George Wallace, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis last week was arguably more incendiary than anything his predecessor said as President.
It was an act that Youngkin, Virginia’s 74th governor, came nowhere close to following. Just the opposite. And what a contrast. Youngkin’s opening act was a breath of fresh air from an earnest, inclusive, and optimistic first-time politician whose life experiences come outside of politics, unlike Biden’s. In the business world, visions and promises made are measured against real-world performance. Business leaders by and large cannot bulls**t their way through an election with the help of a fawning media, as many Washington politicians are adept at doing.
Youngkin, by virtue of his inaugural address, first 11 executive orders, and tone and tenor of his inaugural ceremony, tends to bring the same visionary, inclusive, no-nonsense, real-world leadership style that defined his 25 years at Washington, DC’s highly successful Carlyle Group.
I noticed a few things about the inaugural ceremony: first, it resembled a presidential inauguration steeped in tradition, including morning coats and ties for men (that we have not seen in Washington, DC since Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural in 1981). The legislature hosts it. New Republican House of Delegates Speaker Todd Gilbert chaired the ceremony. The US Senate, and specifically the Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, hosts and chairs a presidential inaugural, respectively. Jason Miyares was sworn in as the Commonwealth’s first Latino Attorney General by an African-American judge. The ceremony’s opening prayer by the black pastor of a Richmond church and its benedictory prayer led by a young Latino pastor from Northern Virginia.
Also speaking was Suparna Dutta, who arrived in Virginia thirty years ago from her native India. She may have been ignored by the Fairfax County School Board during debates over race-based curricula, but not yesterday at the State Capitol.
All three swearings-in, including for the Jamaican-born and former US Marine, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears - the Commonwealth’s first woman lieutenant governor - were led by African-American judges. Youngkin’s was led by two judges, with the actual oath administered a retired chief justice of the State Supreme Court, a woman. A choir from one of Virginia’s historically black colleges, Virginia Union University, sang both during the ceremony and again towards the end of the inaugural parade.
And as Youngkin promised during this campaign, he descended from the platform with Sears and Miyares, and their spouses, and led a prayer for providential guidance.
It was diversity and inclusion on parade, literally and figuratively, referenced by Youngkin during his address.
Barrier-breakers like Maggie Walker and Gov. Doug Wilder (who is here today) — leading the way for the historic inauguration today of our new Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears and our new Attorney General Jason Miyares.
The people of Virginia just elected the most diverse leadership in commonwealth history, sending a message that Virginia is big enough for the hopes and dreams of a diverse people.
Wilder, who turns 90 on Monday, was America’s and Virginia’s first elected African-American governor (1990-1994), a Democrat who also co-chaired Youngkin’s transition team. The late Maggie Walker was the first African-American woman to found a bank.
How did some Democrats respond to Youngkin’s swearing-in? About as you might expect. From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
Reaction from Democrats to Youngkin’s inauguration included several promises to block swaths of his agenda.
Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said he was less interested in Youngkin’s rhetoric than his policies and his party’s legislative agenda.
“So far, I’ve seen legislation reversing voter protections, justice reform and Youngkin has decided to be hands off when it comes to tough decisions to protect our students and teachers from COVID-19,” Bagby said.
“And the war they have declared on Black history is dangerous to say the least.”
Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said “Senate Democrats have no intention [of] rolling back two years of tremendous progress for all Virginians — not only a select few.”
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax said he looks forward to working with Youngkin on “making Virginia the best place it can be,” adding, “The past eight years of Democratic success have given us a platform.”
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker was much more pointed: “We will hold Glenn and his administration accountable every step of the way, and we will remind Virginians that the ‘moderate from Northern Virginia’ is nothing more than a political puppet for the far right.”
What Democrats don’t like is the agenda on which Youngkin ran and won the election. Perhaps Gov. Youngkin can take a page from his predecessor and keep his antagonists comfortable while he advances an agenda with broad public support. A few excerpts from his speech, again courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
I come to this office, ready to lead and serve on Day One.
We’ll start where the future is determined, in the classroom, preparing Virginia’s children to be career- or college-ready.
Starting today, we will raise standards, raise teacher pay, invest in facilities and children with disabilities.
We will create innovation lab and charter schools of achievement — within the public school system.
We will remove politics from the classroom and refocus on essential math, science and reading. And we will teach all of our history — the good and the bad.
And we know that when our children don’t go to school, it harms their learning and development. So let me be clear we must keep our children in school five days a week.
Starting today, we will tackle the high cost of living. We will suspend for a year the recent tax increase on gasoline, and eliminate the grocery tax altogether.
In addition, we will double the standard deduction on income taxes, rein in skyrocketing property taxes, provide the largest tax rebate in Virginia’s history, and cut taxes on our military veterans’ retirement benefits.
Starting today, we will be crystal clear — Virginia is open for business.
We’re going to re-energize the engine of the economy by reducing regulations, investing in job training, making it easier for business to access capital, and get all Virginians back to work
Our goal is to create 400,000 jobs and 10,000 new startups over the next four years.
The most basic compact government must make with every citizen is to preserve public safety. My pledge is that we will restore safety by fully funding law enforcement.
Starting today, we will comprehensively fund higher salaries, better training, investments in equipment. And we will protect qualified immunity for law enforcement. ...
As governor, we will return respect to the men and women who wear the uniform, all law enforcement officers, corrections officers and first responders who take an oath to keep us all safe.
Somewhere along the way we’ve lost the ability to show respect to one another. To disagree without being disagreeable.
And we’ve tried to silence the people most responsible for the lives of young children — their parents.
Parents should have a say in what is taught in school, because in Virginia, parents have a fundamental right to make decisions with regards to their child’s upbringing, education and care.
To parents I say — we respect you. And we will empower you in the education of your children.
Yes, that is so “far right.” Preserve public safety! Rights of parents! Youngkin even quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, whose birth fell on inauguration day this year. “‘We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.’ For us, that boat is named Virginia, and today we set sail to a new and better day.”
That is some “war” on black history.
Youngkin’s first executive orders began that process. His first one orders state education officials to ban “inherently divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory.” And yes, it has tentacles in Virginia (and other states) educational systems, going back a decade. Other orders rescind mask mandates in schools that provably harm children’s development.
One of my favorites is Executive Order 5, which calls for an official review of two terrible state agencies, the incompetent Virginia Employment Commission and the user-unfriendly Department of Motor Vehicles.
Executive Directive 1 directs state agencies to reduce regulations by 25 percent unless required by state and federal law. Directive 2 rescinds all COVID vaccine mandates on state employees.
“Despite the continuing challenges posed by Covid-19, I see a path forward,” Youngkin said during his inaugural address. “Not to some pessimistic new normal, but to a new and better day.
“Our common path forward is with the miracle of modern medicine, that’s given us vaccines, new therapeutics and medical treatments,” he continued.
“Our common path forward is with our deep and abiding respect for individual freedom.”
That’s a winning message, and Youngkin intends to keep his promises. He’s off to a good start.