Glenn Youngkin will be Virginia’s next governor, part of a near-complete Republican takeover of Virginia’s government. In 2022, Republicans will be governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor. They will also likely hold a two-seat majority in the House of Delegates, although two close races may go to recounts. However, they will not hold the Senate, where Democrats have a 21-to-19 majority. Still, if one Democratic senator flips on a vote, that would create a tie that lieutenant governor-elect Winsome Sears would break. Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), who House Republicans nominated for Speaker, has said that Republicans do have a mandate, but he is also aware of the need to work across the aisle with the Senate.
All that gives political novice Youngkin strong Republican support to launch efforts to fulfill his campaign promises, but also sets him up for serious challenges to get his policies across the finish line. Still, Virginia governors have extensive power to set policy and funding priorities, and Youngkin will also have executive authority, which will allow him to fulfill some key promises without legislative buy-in.
Many of Youngkin’s promises fall into five policy categories: education, COVID-19, economics, law enforcement, and elections.
Youngkin’s education messaging included six policies: opening schools, not ending advanced courses, having the largest education budget in Virginia history, 20 new charter schools, banning Critical Race Theory, and embracing parent’s input on curriculum. That turned out to be critical to Youngkin’s victory.
- Youngkin told The Star, “Democrat politicians in Virginia are failing parents because they’re too afraid to confront the special interest groups blocking the schoolhouse doors. It’s crazy and it’s shameful, and when I’m governor we will do the right thing for our kids and open schools safely.”
In April, a new Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative proposed re-framing middle and high school math concepts into a “math path” focused on relevancy that would better position students for careers, college, trade school, and the military. But Loudoun County School Board Member Ian Serotkin warned that would end math acceleration before 11th grade.
In response, Youngkin said he would fire Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane and Deputy Superintendent Donald Fairheart, and said he would “reject the policies of low expectations.”
- Youngkin said in a press release, “Instead of putting our children in the fast lane for success, these policies are forcing them into the breakdown lane. If Dr. Lane and his deputy have not resigned by the time I have taken office, I will fire them on the spot. Terry McAuliffe would continue these destructive attempts to socially engineer equal outcomes, but I will end them when I’m governor.”
After a summer of school board outrage in Loudoun County, Youngkin spoke at an education rally in the county in September. He touted spending on education with teacher pay raises. He said he would expand school choice, including the launch of 20 charter schools.
- “I will preside over the largest education budget in the history of Virginia. We will raise teacher pay. We will invest in schools. And then we will turn around and demand that they perform,” he said. “On day one we’re going to start closing the gap on charter schools and choice in Virginia by launching 20 innovative charters schools on day one to give parents a choice so that a child’s destiny is not dictated by his or her zip code.”
At the same rally, Youngkin promised to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT); that message became one of the more popular promises of Youngkin’s campaign.
- “It all starts with recognizing that our curriculum has gone haywire. It’s gone haywire. So on day one, we’re going to ban teaching Critical Race Theory in our schools,” Youngkin said.
Virginia education officials say the theory isn’t taught in schools, but Republicans are suspicious of equity trainings for teachers and cultural competency requirements for teachers. It’s not clear what exactly a CRT ban would look like, but other states have enacted similar policies.
That includes Utah, whose legislature passed a resolution recommending that the State Board of Education eliminate curriculum that teaches “that one race is inherently superior or inferior to another race; that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race; or that an individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race.”
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis asked the State Board of Education to ban lessons with CRT, according to Slate. The amended rule bans suppressing or distorting significant historical events including the Holocaust, “slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people to our country.”
The Florida rule states, “Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project[.]”
Related to his promise about CRT is Youngkin’s broader philosophy about parental involvement in schools. Youngkin jumped on a critical debate gaffe by opponent Terry McAuliffe who said he didn’t “think parents should be telling schools what they teach.” In messaging, Youngkin focused on parent’s right to have a say in school curriculum, including controversial and explicit books.
- “We’re going to embrace our parents, not ignore them. We’re going to press forward with a curriculum that includes listening to parents’ input,” Youngkin said in his Election Day victory speech.
A core contrast between Youngkin and McAuliffe was Youngkin’s stance on mandates, which may have hurt him with suburban voters until COVID-19 declined in importance to voters. Still, the issue helped reinvigorate Youngkin among the Republican base. Many of Youngkin’s policy declarations on COVID-19 were in response to executive orders from Northam, and Youngkin could likely institute his own COVID-19 policy through executive order, without the help of the legislature.
Youngkin said he would not lock down businesses.
- “I will not allow COVID lockdowns to ever occur in Virginia again,” he said in August.
He opposed mask mandates in schools.
- “We must respect parents’ right to decide what is best for their own children. If parents, teachers, and children want to wear a mask, they absolutely should do that, but there should not be a statewide school mask mandate,” he said.
Youngkin opposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates and vaccine passports.
- “I would not have a vaccine passport. I don’t believe in it. I think people should get the vaccine. I have actually been vaccinated, because it was a decision I made about my own health and my families health. I would encourage every who can get the vaccine to get it, but people have to make their own decisions on this,” he said.
Youngkin launched his campaign with plans to cut taxes. Early messages warning about the direction of Virginia’s economy hit a speed bump in July when CNBC named Virginia the top state for business in 2021. But amid fears of rising inflation, Youngkin developed a message of lowering Virginians’ cost of living. Key Youngkin messages include no increased taxes, tax cuts, rebates, and regulation cuts.
In February, he signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.
- “I am honored and pleased today to be signing the Taxpayer Protection Pledge on behalf of all Virginians. Our government in Richmond has got runaway budgets and I believe in small government and efficient government. So today, I’m going to sign a pledge to take care of Virginians as opposed to taking care of big government. I, Glenn Youngkin, pledge to the taxpayers of Virginia I will oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes,” he said in an announcement.
Youngkin’s campaign was lagging by mid-summer, when he announced his “Day One Game Plan,” which he and allies hoped would reinvigorate voters with a vision for Virginia’s future. That plan featured prominent tax cuts: eliminating the 2.5 percent grocery tax, suspending the recent gas tax increase for 12 months, requiring voter approval before property tax increases, cutting taxes on veteran retirement pay, and doubling the standard deduction for income taxes. It also includes a one-time tax rebate of $600 for joint filers, and $300 for individuals.
- In his Election Day speech, he said, “Friends, we will reduce our cost of living. On day one, we will declare the largest tax refund in the history of Virginia. We’re going to eliminate the grocery tax. Suspend the most recent hike in the gas tax. Double everybody’s standard deduction, and we are going to cut taxes on the retirement income of our veterans.”
Youngkin’s plan also states:
- “He will cut regulations to create jobs and make it easier for innovators and entrepreneurs to get small businesses moving again.”
- “His game plan will create 400,000 jobs and make sure every student graduates career or college ready.”
Law Enforcement Promises
Attorney general-elect Jason Miyares campaigned alongside Youngkin, highlighting crimes committed by people after they had been paroled; Miyares said he would be Virginia’s top cop. Youngkin let Miyares handle much of the tough-on-crime messaging, but Youngkin was clear that he was on the same page. Key messages include firing the Virginia Parole Board and fully funding law enforcement.
Beginning before the campaigns and lasting for much of the year, Republicans battled the Northam administration over reports that the Virginia Parole Board had improperly paroled Vincent Martin. Youngkin linked the board to McAuliffe, and repeatedly said he would fire the board.
- “When I’m governor, we will put an end to this chaos started by Terry McAuliffe, replace the parole board, support law enforcement, and restore common sense and respect for victims to the parole process,” he said in a June press release.
Youngkin also said he would fund law enforcement.
- “We are going to comprehensively fund law enforcement, because they stand up for us, and we are going to stand up for them. Higher salaries, better equipment, more training,” he said in his victory speech.
Qualified immunity was another key issue.
- “We’re going to protect qualified immunity,” he said in his victory speech.
As Youngkin was working to reach GOP delegates in the race for the nomination at the insider-friendly GOP convention, one of his earliest messages was on election integrity. The issue remains important to core Republicans.
While not exactly a promise, he proposed five “commonsense steps” to protect election integrity. His February plan listed: “Establish a politically independent and transparent Virginia Department of Elections. Update voter rolls monthly to provide accurate voter information. Strengthen Virginia’s voter identification in all methods of voting. Verify all mall-in applications and ballots are legitimate and timely. Ensure ballot counting integrity by requiring observer presence and the audit of voting machines.”
- “I will ensure that all legal votes will count in Virginia,” he said in the proposal.
- “Rest assured, when you elect us and we go work for you, we’re going to press forward with elections reforms including requiring every Virginian to show up with a photo I.D.,” he said in June.
The Virginia Star asked several people what they perceived Youngkin’s top promises to be.
“Education, education, education. All the others were typical. But giving parents more say in education was new,” Democratic political operative Paul Goldman said.
Former GOP House of Delegates candidate GayDonna Vandergriff first spoke to The Star at a Henrico Youngkin rally. On Saturday, she wrote, “1. Get Virginia working again, open our economy, no more shutdowns, and protect right-to-work. 2. Improve safety for all Virginians by supporting our law enforcement and firing the parole board. 3. Help our children to succeed and thrive by establishing and supporting high expectations for public education.”
Melissa Pollak first spoke to The Star at a July McAuliffe rally with President Joe Biden. On Saturday, she said in an email, “Youngkin used the education issue to get elected — but not in the way it should have been used, but by taking advantage of the fake CRT-being-taught-in-our-schools nonsense and other cultural hot buttons (e.g., bathroom gender issues) being spread by the Right Wing media and subsequently the Trump cult.”
Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) ran for the GOP nomination and lost to Youngkin. She listed what she thought were his top promises: “Number one, eliminating CRT out of our education system. Instituting school choice, getting rid of CRT, I think that was probably the number one thing that put him over the top.”
She added, “I would secondly say, elimination of mandates. And then finally, in the primary I was all about election integrity, and he was more so in the primary than I think he was in the general. But election integrity was the number one issue with our supporters and with our base, and he’s assured everyone he’s going to be on top of it.”
Prince William County GOP Vice Chairman Willie Deutsch said, “His victory speech was pretty identical to what he was doing on the stump the last couple of weeks before [the election.] So, you could probably summarize it down to education reform, tax reform / putting more money back in people’s pockets, whether it’s off lower taxes, lower energy prices, et cetera, and reforming government, making it more efficient, and he’s talking about making the DMV actually work and be responsive, make stuff happen on time.”
“It’s an aggressive one, and he’s putting together the team to try to go make it happen,” Deutsch said.
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