Something unusual is happening: A politician is keeping his campaign promises.
Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected governor of Virginia in November, and he took office on Saturday. In his inaugural address, he reiterated many of the promises he made on the campaign trail. He affirmed the goodness of the American Founding. He said children should be in school, in person, five days per week. He said parents should have a say in education. He said he would cut taxes. He said he would make sure law enforcement is fully funded and supported.
And then — this is the crazy part — he started actually doing those things.
In a flurry of executive orders on his first day in office, Youngkin created a carveout from local mask mandates in K–12 schools for parents who don’t want their kids to mask, prohibited critical race theory in K–12 education, and ordered the attorney general to investigate sexual assaults in Loudoun County Public Schools. He fired every member of the Virginia Parole Board (which had been mired in scandal) and appointed new members “to restore integrity and confidence” in the criminal-justice system. He withdrew Virginia from a regional green-energy initiative that was increasing electricity prices.
Then he addressed a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly to introduce his legislative priorities. He said he’d veto any legislation that would reverse Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state. He wants Virginia’s sales tax on groceries to be eliminated and wants the standard deduction for income taxes to be increased. He wants more state aid to local police departments. He also emphasized two issues progressives claim to support — an increase in teacher pay and reducing water pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
Youngkin will certainly run into challenges implementing his agenda, and we obviously shouldn’t mistake his strong start with successful governance. The most immediate obstacle relates to his executive order on mask mandates. The General Assembly passed a law in 2021 that ordered school boards to adopt Covid policies that adhere “to the maximum extent practicable, to any currently applicable mitigation strategies . . . that have been provided by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” The law doesn’t specifically mention masks, but the CDC — in an approach that is more sweeping and extreme than that of its European counterpart or the WHO — recommends kids aged two and above wear masks in school.
Opponents of Youngkin’s executive order argue that it exceeds his authority and opens school districts up to lawsuits if they relax their masking policies. Supporters argue that since the Virginia law doesn’t mention masks specifically, the attorney general can issue guidance saying school districts can choose which mitigation measures they want to use. They also point to another Virginia statute that says a parent “has a fundamental right to make decisions concerning the upbringing, education, and care of the parent’s child.”
The best way to settle the legal question would be for the legislature to repeal the 2021 law.
Youngkin’s more important obstacle for his entire agenda is the 21–19 Democratic majority in the Virginia Senate. Republicans won back the House of Delegates majority last year, but senators have four-year terms, and they aren’t up for election again until 2023. With Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears serving as Senate president, Republicans will only need one Democratic defection to pass legislation with Sears’s tie-breaking vote. But if Democrats hold their entire caucus together, they’ll be able to stop Youngkin’s legislative agenda at least until Republicans have a chance to retake the majority for the second half of Youngkin’s term.
The Left is busy convincing itself that Youngkin has morphed into a radical. Eileen Filler-Corn, the minority leader of the House of Delegates, called Youngkin “out of touch” and said, “This is not the type of governor Glenn Youngkin promised to be on the campaign trail.”
But it is exactly the type of governor he promised to be, and Virginia voters sent a pretty clear message in November that they believe Democrats are the ones who are out of touch. Virginia Democrats are backing themselves into a corner as the party of school closures, forever masking, and lax education standards, not to mention the higher taxes and energy costs that are the usual unpopular parts of progressive governance.
That leaves a lot of political ground for Republicans to take, and Youngkin has started to take it. That, not his purported radicalism, is what has progressives in a bind. They don’t understand that more voters in the last election viewed them as the radical ones, and Youngkin’s election and first few days in office have made that fact clear for anyone to see. To which we say, bravo.
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