RICHMOND, Va. -- Massive bleachers and ornate red, white, and blue bunting wrap the South end of Virginia’s Capitol. Those are some visual markers of the history of the weekend ahead.
The peaceful transition of power in Virginia every four years, written into the state Constitution, will lead to the swearing-in of Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) shortly after noon Saturday.
The gravity of the moment does not escape him.
“I mean, I’m a homegrown Virginian. When I was 15-years-old, I was taking out trash and washing dishes at the Belvedere Hotel on the Oceanfront because I needed a job. Now, here I am poised to be inaugurated as the 74th Governor of Virginia, a seat that was held by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. This is a very humbling moment,” Youngkin said during a pre-Inauguration
interview with CBS 6 this week.
Youngkin will soon become the first Virginia Governor in modern history to have zero prior government experience. He has spent the past two months building out his administration.
Some opponents and Virginia political watchers were critical at times of the speed at which Youngkin was appointing leadership positions.
“I’ve spent the bulk of my career building management teams, built a lot of them," the former private investment firm CEO explained as his reasoning behind the slower than normal process. "This is the most important one I’ve ever built. We were very careful, and we were going to do it on our time, not other people’s time."
Youngkin said his legislative priorities headed into his term remained similar to the “day one game plan” issues he hit upon regularly during the campaign and since:
- Eliminating the grocery tax
- Doubling the state standard deduction on income tax
- Bolstering public education standards
- Increasing law enforcement pay
- Promoting workforce development
Over the next four years, his administration will lead Virginia’s response to the effects of the climate crisis on the Commonwealth.
Democrats and environmental groups are concerned the Youngkin administration will work to roll back pollution and clean energy standards.
Those concerns heightened when Youngkin announced the appointment of Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist and EPA Director under former President Trump, as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.
“Mr. Wheeler sought to minimize the impacts of pollution in the rulemaking process, undo the Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from our energy generation sector, weaken federal vehicle fuel standards, restrict the use of science in the rulemaking process and in protecting public health, and hinder the restoration of Chesapeake Bay by weakening Clean Water Act protections and proposing funding cuts to EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program of 90 percent,” Rep Donald McEachin (D - Henrico) wrote in a letter to the Virginia Senate urging those lawmakers to block Wheeler’s nomination.
Youngkin stood by the pick and laid out his administration’s environmental philosophy.
“Andrew Wheeler is incredibly qualified. He was the most qualified person that I met, and I met tons and tons of them,” he said. “We’re going to make sure the Chesapeake Bay is protected. We are backing the establishment of a Virginia Coastal Restoration Authority to make sure we’re going to work to protect from rising seas and flooding. We’re going to make sure we have incremental funds to stop the unnecessary dumping of raw sewage into the James River and into the Potomac. We can stand up for our environment. We also, are going to press forward with a streamlined permitting process so that in fact industry can grow.”
“I actually support wind and solar. I believe that natural gas has a fundamental part in our energy stack going forward. We can, in fact, protect our environment by doing things we know are right. And we can also embrace an all of thee above approach that enables Virginians to have the kind of growing economy we deserve,” Youngkin said.
Longtime Virginia political expert Dr. Bob Holsworth said issues surrounding environmental policy will be telling early on in the Youngkin administration since Democrats control the Senate and pledged to block many rollbacks of law and policy they passed the two previous years when they controlled the Virginia government.
“We’re going to see a lot of back and forth and a lot of conflict on environmental issues this first year,” Holsworth said. “Lots of Republican excitement, but what they’re going to find out is that in split government, you’re going to have to work with Democrats if you want to get anything done, and Glenn Youngkin is going to find out what Terry McAuliffe, Mark Warner, and Tim Kaine found when they were Governor.”
Some Youngkin critics are worried the new governor will say one thing but take a different action once in power. For example, the Governor-elect will soon lead Virginia’s COVID-19 response.
Youngkin has consistently and adamantly encouraged all Virginians to get the COVID vaccine and booster shot. But the Republican also opposes vaccine mandates, even in healthcare settings where medical experts say high vaccination rates saves lives.
“We have a staffing crisis. Right now, we see far fewer nurses and technicians available to support Virginians. And so, Attorney General-elect Miyares and I are going to work to protect Virginians from unnecessarily and, oh by the way, inappropriately fire our healthcare workforce because they haven’t got the vaccine,” Youngkin said when asked about how his administration will handle pandemic response.
Let’s be clear, this pandemic is horrific, and COVID-19 is not going to disappear.
“We believe we can have a practical, commonsense approach to protect lives and livelihoods. Let’s be clear, this pandemic is horrific, and COVID-19 is not going to disappear. I’ve said this through the entire campaign and transition. So, we have to learn to deal with it,” he said.
Holsworth noted that while Youngkin’s election victory was decisive, it was by no means a landslide. With the pandemic still dominating much of life and politics, Holsworth said the question is what type of political figure will Governor Youngkin try to carve out for himself.
“Does he try to work with the Democrats or does he look at himself more as a national figure such as Ron DeSantis or Governor Abbot in Texas,” Holsworth said.
“There’s not a signal element of my day one game plan where I haven’t heard from both sides that we, in fact, can see common ground here,” Youngkin said when asked about having to work with Senate Democrats.
Youngkin pledges that his priorities lie with what is best for the Commonwealth in every situation.
“I’m extremely excited to go to work. I know that as I go to work, I go to work for all 8.6 million Virginians, whether someone voted for me or they didn’t. I’m going to be your voice and make sure we deliver for you,” he said.
The inauguration ceremony is a ticketed event and not open to the public. Officials said around 7,000 tickets were distributed. CBS 6 will be live streaming the ceremony and will air it on TV beginning at Noon on Saturday.