If you haven’t had a chance to research Virginia’s new governor and see what he’s been up to since taking office, we’ve got you covered.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin has been on the job for about a week now. Sworn in on Saturday after garnering nearly 51% of the vote, Youngkin, a Republican, took the helm in a commonwealth with record levels of COVID-19-induced hospitalization and the support of a new GOP majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. The last Republican voted into statewide office was Bob McDonnell in 2009.
If you haven’t had time to catch up on the new governor’s background, here are four things we want to bring to your attention.
1. Prior to moving into the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Youngkin called the wealthiest zip code in Virginia home.
In 2003, Youngkin bought 13-plus acres of land for his personal home in Great Falls. Zip code 22066 is the wealthiest in Virginia, where median incomes and home values well exceed state levels. Today, Youngkin’s property is over 30 acres, featuring a custom-built, seven-bedroom, eight-bathroom house, a pool, a full-length basketball court, and a horse arena.
The governor’s luxurious lifestyle is a stark contrast in comparison to that of most Virginians. The number two employer in the state is Wal Mart, where the average wage is $16.23 an hour or potentially $32,000 per year. Days after being elected, Youngkin’s team offered a summary of financial disclosures over the past five years: He made $127 million.
“It’s hard to maintain a representative government when someone’s version of a bad day is not being able to go on their yacht and another’s version is not being able to feed their kids,” Shaun Kenney, former executive director of Virginia’s Republican Party, told the Washington Post last year during the campaign. “When you don’t live the day-to-day concerns of your constituents, it creates a disconnect.”
2. The new governor has no experience running any governmental agencies and little in common with Virginia workers.
While Youngkin has experience in management, he is largely a political outsider. After receiving his MBA from Harvard, he joined McKinsey & Company, an intentionally risky management consulting firm that contributed to the 2008 financial collapse. Starting in 1995, Youngkin rose through the ranks of The Carlyle Group, settling at co-CEO in 2018.
In a recent interview with Virginia Business prior to taking office, Youngkin explained how he planned to narrow Virginia’s income disparity (the median family income in Loudoun County is $112,000 more than that of Dickenson County). In addition to expanding access to broadband and investing in the commonwealth’s highway infrastructure—both of which are projects already in the works thanks to Democrats—Youngkin believes it’s important to “leverage and market the great quality of life that exists in Virginia” to ensure employees who can work remotely move to less populated parts of the commonwealth.
This assessment ignores dozens of industries. In fact, the Virginia Employment Commission projects healthcare support occupations will increase by nearly 30% between 2014 and 2024. This includes jobs like home health aide, nursing assistant, massage therapist, and dental assistant. The industry that saw the most growth in the short-term? Personal care and service occupations, like barbers, childcare workers, and morticians (and that was even before the pandemic).
To Youngkin’s point, the workplace has changed for many Virginians with telework, telehealth, and more. Putting sole focus on these industries, however, leaves much of the population behind, including women, who make up nearly two-thirds of the workforce in low-paid jobs.
3. His cabinet picks are mostly business-minded people who think Virginia’s economy is suffering—despite the commonwealth being named the best state for business and the top business climate in the US.
Youngkin’s lack of government experience means the members of his cabinet will be hugely influential.
Take Caren Merrick, his nominee for Secretary of Commerce, for example. Merrick was CEO of VA Ready, which Youngkin and his wife Susan co-founded to help businesses combat pandemic-induced unemployment. Additionally, she was on the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Board of Directors for six years—which could play a role in how federal transportation funding is dispersed across the commonwealth. (Virginia’s public transportation infrastructure is in dire need of an upgrade.)
Andrew Wheeler, whose confirmation could be voted down, is Youngkin’s pick for Secretary of Natural Resources. A former coal industry lobbyist and recent EPA administrator under President Donald Trump, he pursued policies that favored businesses, not conservation.
Youngkin’s cabinet choices and first days in office could give insight into the next four years. Of the 11 executive actions he signed after Saturday’s inauguration, two are aimed at rolling back regulations on businesses, potentially hurting workers.
4. Youngkin signed nearly a dozen executive actions on day one, ranging from mask policies to critical race theory.
Among the slew of executive orders signed on Saturday, one encouraged parents to defy mask mandates in K-12 schools—even though the state is currently experiencing negative impacts from highly contagious COVID-19 variants—and then threatened to withhold funding from schools who ignored his order.
“While parents of some students with conditions that increase the risks of COVID-19 infection
might require their children to remain masked during the duration of the school day, other
parents may require masks for a more limited duration, if at all,” the order reads.
Chesapeake parents asked Virginia’s Supreme Court to step in and stop the order’s implementation, which would start Monday, Jan. 24, to avoid “irreparable harm and damage” to their children.
Another executive order took aim at the teaching of critical race theory—an academic framework that is not at all taught in K-12 schools but one that Youngkin and Republicans misled voters on during his campaign—by empowering Virginia school officials to review current curriculum and “end any portion that promotes inherently divisive concepts.”
Legal controversy also sparked around Youngkin’s order to re-evaluate Virginia’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. He later backed off his attempt to leave RGGI, which aims to cut carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.
After a matter of days, and Youngkin’s already made clear where he stands on Virginia’s efforts to manage the pandemic. In addition to lifting the mask requirements in schools, Youngkin promises to take a hard look at business regulations in Virginia. The executive order wants to repeal “regulations that do little to protect our citizens while imposing heavy burdens on our businesses.” The regulations he’s referring to? Mitigation efforts to protect people from COVID-19.
He further directs agencies to focus on regulations with “the most impact with the least burden” because of supply chain shortages and testing limitations. The governor’s new COVID action plan discourages mass testing for pre-screening and discourages asymptomatic individuals from getting tested. He also “highly encourages” Virginians to get vaccinated, planning to send additional Mobile Vaccine Units to rural areas and host 120 mass vaccination sites across the state.
About 68.5% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to health department data.
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