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Virginia Senate blocks most of Governor Youngkin parole board appointees

Posted at 2:39 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 14:39:20-05

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia Senate on Thursday rejected a majority of Gov. Glenn Youngkin's nominees to the state parole board, a move the chamber's Democratic majority said was partly in retaliation for House Republicans' earlier defeat of appointments to other boards.

“I think that the House needs to be taught a lesson,” Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin said during an unusually heated debate.

The move marked a sharp escalation in the long-simmering fight over appointments during this year's session of the divided General Assembly.

On a party-line vote, the chamber defeated a joint resolution approving four of the five parole board members and one of Youngkin's appointees to the Safety and Health Codes Board, which oversees occupational safety and health standards. Republican senators expressed outrage.

Sen. Mark Obenshain said it would derail the consideration of parole grants, which are already limited in Virginia.

“This is cutting off your nose to spite your face,” he said.

Sen. Steve Newman said it sets a “whole new low precedent for this body.”

Thursday's defeat of the nominees came about a month after the House voted down 11 of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s appointees to various boards and commissions, a move that outraged Democrats. House Republicans said at the time that the decision had been made in concert with the Youngkin administration in retaliation for the Senate's earlier defeat of a Youngkin Cabinet nominee, former U.S. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Ebbin said Thursday's move was also intended to protect "the integrity of this chamber and our bicameral appointments process.”

He said Senate Democrats had attempted to defuse the situation by meeting with Youngkin's counsel, Richard Cullen, to discuss the Northam appointees who were ditched in February. Among them were several education board members, including one who was a Franklin County educator who had been named the 2021 Virginia Teacher of the Year.

After the meeting, Ebbin and other members of Senate leadership sent the governor a letter, asking that the 11 Northam appointees be restored.

“Unfortunately, unless you reappoint all eleven of these public servants there will be tremendous pressure to apply this precedent in turn to future Youngkin appointees,” said the letter, which was shared with The Associated Press.

A spokeswoman for Youngkin didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The parole board members who were removed were: Tracy Banks, Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, Charles Partin and Carmen Williams.

The board chairman, Chadwick Dotson, was not impacted by the vote. It was not immediately clear if his name had been submitted yet for legislative consideration.

Youngkin appointed five new members to the parole board on the day he was sworn in, dismissing every former member who served during the Northam administration.

The parole board was mired in controversy during the Northam administration, beginning after it engaged in an accelerated and sometimes chaotic release of inmates at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.