Commentary, National Commentary

Senator Richard Saslaw’s Richmond Report

Words matter. Based on the visual and oral bombardment of current political ads, this line will go down as the understatement of the 2022 campaign season. Once again, the nation has been shocked by an act of violence – this time the brutal assault of Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker Pelosi. ICYMI – The Speaker has been verbally under assault by the hard right pushing all levers to return to power. Whatever happened to civil debate in a democratic society? Where have the takeaways from the violence of January 6 been applied? 

Public service used to be considered a patriotic duty. Elected officials may have disagreed on issues but would enjoy each other’s company after hours. Vitriolic rhetoric has fueled political violence. It dehumanizes the men and women serving and puts their families and staff at risk.   No doubt the belligerent dialogue and unfounded mistrust in the American electoral process are fueling the brutal actions we are witnessing. In the long run, it will also clear the field of the best-intentioned candidates willing to serve the nation. This latest attack is a wake-up call and should be followed by a HARD STOP.  

In a few days the ballots will be counted that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. The makeup of Virginia’s Congressional Delegation is also at stake. It has been a very contentious path to the ballot box with conflicting messages. Under Governor Youngkin’s  watch the State Board of Elections has sent out tens of thousands of voter registrations with incorrect information. Ironically,  Attorney General Morales established an “elections integrity unit” to mitigate any electoral  mishaps.   

Across the nation there are candidates on the ballot that continue to embrace the “big lie.” Over the past several months, Governor Youngkin  has spent his time traveling the country in support of election deniers and candidates endorsed by the twice-impeached president who remains embroiled in legal problems.  

Combine these unsubstantiated allegations of election integrity,  with the Supreme Court decision to nullify Roe v. Wade and the stage is set for continued division in the U.S. Looking ahead to the General Assembly, bills are being drafted that interfere with a woman’s right to bodily autonomy; academic censoring and the roll back of environmental protections. Further attempts to deny access to our fundamental democratic right , voting will be on tap as well.  

Last week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released academic findings reflective of yet another severe consequence of the pandemic. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that unstructured learning during the height of the pandemic would likely have an impact on academic success. Governor Youngkin chose to point the finger at a previous administration and  disparage the herculean efforts of teachers in 2020 and 2021. This approach is flat out wrong and unproductive.  

For the record, most states performed below pre-pandemic proficiency. For both 4th grade and 8th grade math, Virginia was not significantly different from the nation. Those FACTS also stand for reading proficiency at the same grade level.  

During my tenure in elected office I have served under 12 other Governors. Never has a sitting Governor repeatedly clawed back to his predecessor to distance himself from problems in the Commonwealth. In his move to elevate his national profile, the Governor is working hard to unwind Virginia’s progress forward as if the past IS the future. 

Virginia’s children deserve the opportunity to move forward, and most parents want the focus to be on their children having a good education and the potential for success in their adult lives.  Banning books and spending inordinate energy on bathroom bills is not the key to improving student achievement.  Clearly there is a lack of consensus on how we address learning loss.  

Seasoned teachers have left the profession in droves taking with them expertise and insight learned over years in the classroom. Setting up teacher snitch lines sent shock waves through the profession and was an impetus to the mass exodus we have seen. I believe teachers will need to be incentivized and supported to meet the challenges ahead.   

“Back to normal” should not be the standard of the future. I invite the Governor to embrace his responsibility and focus on what is important to Virginians. I plan to spend the upcoming legislative session working to get our priorities straight. At the same time, we will need to be judicious with state funds because the federal supplemental Covid funds will be disappearing from our revenue stream. It’s time to end the culture wars and bring the Commonwealth together with a vision that puts Virginia on the correct trajectory.