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Businessman Glenn Youngkin is scheduled to be sworn in as the 74th governor of Virginia Saturday in Richmond, restoring Republicans to an office they haven’t held in nearly a decade.
Two history-making Republicans will also take the oath of office Saturday. Former state Delegate Jason Miyares will be sworn in as attorney general, the first Latino elected to statewide office. And former state Delegate Winsome Sears will be sworn in as lieutenant governor, the first Black woman to hold that title.
Youngkin’s victory in November shocked Democrats who – after President Biden’s 10-point margin in the state – were hoping former Gov. Terry McAuliffe would be able to return to the governor’s mansion and continue the party’s grip on an office currently held by outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam. But Youngkin’s campaign turned out many voters in rural Virginia and made inroads in suburban areas of the state. The former private equity CEO framed his lack of political experience as an asset.
In addition to seizing control of all three statewide offices, Republicans also hold a 52-48 majority in the House of Delegates after flipping seven seats in the 100-member chamber. During their brief time in the majority, Democrats raised the minimum wage, abolished the death penalty, expanded access to voting and legalized marijuana. Republicans are hoping to work with the new governor to roll back some of the more progressive elements of those new laws. But they’ll have to cajole or compromise with Democrats in the state Senate, where Democrats still hold a 21-19 edge, with broader margins on key committees.
On the campaign trail, Youngkin often talked about his “day-one agenda”: adding charter schools, raising teacher pay, slashing business regulations, removing Virginia from climate change commitments, firing the state’s embattled parole board and passing a host of tax cuts. Most of those policies will require legislative sign-off, but Youngkin has said he plans on addressing some policies related to COVID-19 in executive orders. That includes rescinding an order from Northam requiring masks in public schools he could also be confronted with an unexpected challenge on his first day in office as a potentially massive snowstorm rolls into Virginia Sunday.
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Youngkin will also have to face an issue that he didn’t talk about on the campaign trail. That is, figuring out how Virginia’s new marijuana industry will work. Democrats legalized marijuana in small amounts, but the system for retail sales still hasn’t been established.
Youngkin’s cabinet includes a mix of political newcomers as well as veterans of state and federal government, including staffers who worked under former President Donald Trump. That includes Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist and administrator of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency who rolled back protections passed by former President Barack Obama.
Wheeler’s nomination sparked immediate outcry among Senate Democrats in Virginia, who are hoping to block his nomination. The fight over Wheeler’s nomination could be an early test of Youngkin’s ability to work his way through delicate political situations. Youngkin has so far ignored those protests, calling Wheeler “incredibly qualified” in an interview with member station VPM on Tuesday.
Northam, the outgoing Democrat, has said he’s unlikely to run for office again. He faced widespread calls to resign in Feb. 2019 after reporters surfaced a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page. Northam ultimately denied he was in the photos, stood down those calls and went on to sign sweeping policy changes pushed by Democratic majorities. The pediatric neurologist is set to resume seeing patients on Monday.