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Entrepreneur Glenn Youngkin is due to take the oath of office in Richmond on Saturday as the 74th governor of Virginia and return to Republicans an office they haven’t held for nearly a decade.
The oath will also be taken by two Republicans who have made history. Former state delegate Jason Miyares takes the oath as Attorney General, the first Latino elected to the national office. And former state delegate Winsome Sears will take the oath as a lieutenant, the first black woman with the title.
Youngkin’s victory in November shocked Democrats, who – after President Biden’s ten-point gap in the state – hoped that former Governor Terry McAuliffe would be able to return to the governor’s headquarters and continue the party’s grip of the current post of outgoing Governor Ralph. Northam. However, Youngkin’s campaign won many voters in rural Virginia and reached suburban areas of the state. The former CEO of private capital called his lack of political experience an advantage.
In addition to taking control of all three national offices, Republicans also have a 52:48 majority in the House of Delegates after swapping seven seats in the 100-member chamber. During their brief tenure, Democrats have mostly raised the minimum wage, abolished the death penalty, expanded access to elections and legalized marijuana. Republicans hope to work with the new governor to repeal some of the more progressive elements of these new laws. But they will have to persuade or compromise with Democrats in the state Senate, where Democrats still hold the lead 21-19, with wider margins in key committees.
During the campaign, Youngkin often spoke of his “first day agenda”: adding charter schools, raising teachers’ salaries, reducing trade regulations, exempting Virginia from climate change commitments, dismissing the State Council on parole and adopting a number of tax cuts. Most of these policies will require legislative signing, but Youngkin said he plans to address some COVID-19-related policies in executive regulations. This includes canceling an order from Northam requiring masks in public schools. Youngkin could also face an unexpected challenge on his first day in office, as a potentially massive snowstorm rolled into Virginia on Sunday.
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Youngkin will also have to face an issue he did not talk about during the campaign. So find out how the new marijuana industry in Virginia will work. Democrats have legalized marijuana in small quantities, but the retail system has still not been put in place.
Youngkin’s cabinet includes a mix of political novices and state and federal government veterans, including employees who worked under former President Donald Trump. This includes Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and trustee of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, who revoked protection approved by former President Barack Obama.
Wheeler’s nomination provoked an immediate outrage among Senate Democrats in Virginia, who hope to block his nomination. The fight for Wheeler’s nomination could be an early test of Youngkin’s ability to work his way through sensitive political situations. So far, Youngkin has ignored the protests and called Wheeler “incredibly qualified” in an interview with VPM on Tuesday.
Northam, an outgoing Democrat, said he was unlikely to run for office again. In February 2019, he faced widespread calls for resignation after reporters discovered racist photography on the page of his medical yearbook. Northam eventually denied being in the pictures, rejected the calls, and continued to sign the far-reaching political changes pushed by the Democratic majority. The pediatric neurologist is expected to resume patient visits on Monday.
I’m Paviour covers state policy for VPM member station; Michael Pope works as a reporter for Virginia Public Radio.