Last November, Glenn Youngkin won the gubernatorial election with a 1.9 percent margin over his opponent, Terry McAuliffe. By most standards this slim margin would not be considered a license to change the course of a well-run state rated the number one place to do business and amongst the best in the nation to raise a family. What it does reflect is a great division within our Commonwealth and our communities more than just the obvious of urban vs. rural.
On January 15, Glenn Youngkin was sworn into office as the 74th Governor of Virginia. In front of God and country, he swore to uphold the Constitution, work for all Virginians, and asked for civility in government. And now, less than three weeks in office, we are seeing what was really behind the curtain in the leadup to the current crisis at the Capitol starting with Cabinet nominees.
The Governor has the right to pick his Cabinet and the legislature has the responsibility to approve those selections based on their qualifications. Most have no experience in government and limited relationships with the legislative members. It’s time this new administration completed its civic lessons and start their jobs grounded in the governing documents.
During the gubernatorial campaign, public education became a lightning rod issue. At that time, not much was said about Mr. Youngkin’s plans to circumvent duly elected school boards empowered with the policy and oversight management for the jurisdictions they serve. Since taking office, Gov. Youngkin states he was “listening to parents” – often an unruly minority that were escorted from public meetings for inappropriate bullying and threatening school board officials.
In an attempt at political payback, he has declared war on Virginia’s children and public education, issuing executive orders to abandon CDC protocols that have kept children safe in their classrooms. This action was divisive and puts children, teachers, and working families at risk. It is being challenged in court by concerned parents who have lost their voices to the loudest speaker in the room.
It has been a very arduous couple of years for students and teachers. Most children are happy to be back in school and wearing a face mask has enabled that in-person experience. Currently, school admittance requires proof of vaccination against many contagious diseases such as measles, mumps, tuberculosis, and polio. Science-based evidence shows the value of Western medicine in our society.
Borrowing a chapter from George Orwell, Youngkin has further exacerbated tension within our communities. Parents have been enlisted to be hall monitors for “divisive teaching in public schools.” A tip line for reporting professionals has been established. No doubt about it, parents have a right to a say in their child’s education. But this is an appalling way to engage input.
It took just a couple of days before Virginia became the subject of comedy shows, with Stephen Colbert reflecting on bills intended to cleanse our school libraries from lewd and deviant books. These attempts at literary censorship were quickly thwarted by the Senate Committee on Education and Health. For the record, a review process with specific criteria for age-appropriate reading is already in place.
The General Assembly began its work during yet another variant of Covid-19 surging. Seventeen days into the legislative session, six Senators, six Delegates, and numerous staff have become ill with the virus. Vaccines do not guarantee people won’t get sick. Fortunately, most of the vaccinated members seem to suffer far less symptoms. Virginia’s healthcare system is again stressed with predominantly unvaccinated people.
We still have many bills in committee where most of our days are spent. Education is not the only thing in the sights of this Governor. The environment, criminal justice, voter’s rights and the budget all have bullseyes on them. Senate Democrats are holding the line and moving the ball steadily on our side. The changeover of bills going to the House of Delegates and its new Republican majority promises to be another challenging encounter in attempts to move the Commonwealth forward.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]