Though Youngkin’s victory was narrow, the play worked. As a new year of legislating begins, it’s clearer than ever that Democrats in Virginia can’t afford to put local politics in the back seat.
Ahead of the assembly’s meeting in Richmond on Wednesday, one Republican delegate—Rob Bell of Albermarle, Virginia—billed the GOP’s agenda as a direct response to so-called Democratic lawlessness.
“For the past two years, the House has passed laws that put the interests of those who commit crimes ahead of those who are the victims,” Bell said, adding that the House GOPers would vote to reform the commonwealth’s parole board with keeping “dangerous offenders behind bars.”
And though Bell said Republicans would commit themselves to ending gun and gang violence, the party has also vowed to pass legislation locally that would stop area governments from banning guns at parks and federal buildings.
And as pointed out by The Washington Post, the GOP agenda for 2022 also includes a measure to cancel a minimum wage hike—Democrats approved a $1 increase, moving the wage from $11 to $12, and it was to go into effect this year. The Republican-held House will also try to pass a law forcing women to obtain a written consent form for an abortion and another proposed requirement would demand voters show their photo identification when voting. Right now in Virginia, you need only to prove residency and can use something like a utility bill.
Republicans are also proposing that the early voting period in Virginia be shortened from 45 days to just two weeks.
And school boards, the Post noted, would also “be required to follow the state’s lead on transgender-right policies.”
During the 2020 session, the general assembly passed a law for school districts that established new guidelines for transgender and nonbinary students. The policy effectively informed schools that students should be allowed to use bathrooms or facilities that correspond with their gender identity and that these same students should also be able to participate in programs and activities, like field trips or intramural athletics, regardless of how they express their gender identity.
Many districts in Republican strongholds in Virginia have rejected the guidelines, arguing they infringe on teachers’ First Amendment rights. And though Democrats still control the Senate in Virginia, it is Republicans who have Youngkin’s ear on this issue and others, like how children learn about race, racism, and American history.
Youngkin buoyed much of his campaign at the end of its run by exploiting conservative fear over critical race theory being taught in schools. First, “critical race theory” is not taught as a part of the curriculum in Virginia. The commonwealth’s Department of Education does focus on stopping racism in its disciplinary procedures and has drawn attention to Virginia public officials use of Blackface, but as far as there being a devoted curriculum, there simply is not one.
Youngkin has been mostly mum on critical race theory since winning the gubernatorial election, but he has toyed with the idea of issuing an executive order related to the banning of critical race theory in schools. Whether he could actually do so is in question.
Beyond this, there is also a push in Virginia to appoint Andrew Wheeler, Trump’s onetime pick for the Environmental Protection Agency, to serve as Virginia’s secretary of energy. Wheeler is a former coal lobbyist and Youngkin has already said he intends to remove the commonwealth from a regional greenhouse gas initiative.
That agreement is shared with 11 states and acts as a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions.
There is an ongoing debate over whether Youngkin can make the withdrawal decision unilaterally. Virginia House Majority Leader Del. Terry Kilgore said recently there may be a workaround that would allow Virginia to exit the agreement while still keeping existing “clean energy” legislation on the books.
As it stands, Republicans control the House of Delegates in Virginia with a 52 to 48 lead while Democrats control the Senate narrowly at 21 to 19. Youngkin will be sworn in this weekend and there are just 60 days in the general assembly’s session.
For Democrats who sat out the governor’s race or otherwise considered Virginia safely in the blue column, the next 60 days could be a rude wake up call.