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Glenn Youngkin reminds Virginians what GOP governance looks like

Many Virginians assumed Glenn Youngkin and the GOP's slate of candidates really were mainstream Republicans. Those assumptions are due for a reevaluation.

Headed into last year's gubernatorial race in Virginia, Glenn Youngkin faced a political challenge. On the one hand, the first-time candidate needed to win the support of his conservative political party. On the other hand, Republicans hadn't won a statewide election in the commonwealth since 2009 — and running as a far-right firebrand wouldn't work.

Indeed, as we've discussed, going into Election Day 2021, Democrats controlled the governor's office, the lieutenant governor's office, the attorney general's office, the state legislature, and most of Virginia's congressional delegation. At the presidential level, the Democrats' national ticket has won four of the last four elections — with President Joe Biden nearly winning the commonwealth by double digits.

With this in mind, Youngkin walked a fine line, signaling to the right that he'd be an ally, while assuring the rest of the electorate that he'd be a mainstream governor focused on kitchen-table issues. The subtext was hardly subtle: Virginians need not fear Republican governance in Virginia. There would be no dramatic turn to the right.

It worked: GOP candidates effectively ran the table in the commonwealth last November, fueled in part by voters who backed Democrats a year earlier, and those Republicans are poised to take office this week.

The Washington Post noted overnight what "resurgent Republicans" in Virginia intend to do with their power.

Among the GOP bills are those to: prohibit local governments from banning guns from parks and government buildings; cancel a minimum wage hike — from $11 an hour to $12 — that's scheduled to take effect next year; require women seeking an abortion to sign a written consent; require voters to show photo ID at the polls; cut the early-voting period from 45 days to 14 days; and repeal a state law requiring local school boards to follow the state's lead on transgender-rights policies.

It's hard not to wonder how many Virginians who backed Republicans last fall, many of whom supported President Joe Biden in 2020, realized they were helping put this agenda on the table.

As for the commonwealth's soon-to-be governor, the Post's editorial board added this week:

Last month, Mr. Youngkin announced he would pull Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, an emissions-cutting pact among Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states, in defiance of common sense and, perhaps, state law. Then, last Wednesday, the governor-elect nominated Andrew Wheeler, a former Trump Environmental Protection Agency chief and onetime coal lobbyist, to be the state's secretary of natural resources.

On the former, no one will benefit from Virginia abandoning the RGGI, an 11-state emissions-cutting agreement, and on the latter, it's hard to justify making Donald Trump's favorite coal lobbyist the steward of Virginia's natural resources.

Indeed, the editorial added, "During his time leading the EPA, Mr. Wheeler was the ultimate fox-guarding-the-henhouse figure, helping President Donald Trump roll back about 100 environmental rules addressing an astonishing variety of problems, according to a New York Times count. His first major act was relaxing standards for handling toxic coal ash, to industry cheers. He gutted a policy designed to transition the country off pollution-spewing coal power plants. He canceled efforts to regulate perchlorate, a chemical that damages babies' brains, in drinking water. He slow-walked the replacement of lead pipes. He ripped up rules to stop the nation's least responsible oil and gas drillers from pumping massive amounts of methane into the air. Perhaps his most egregious move was barring the EPA from considering a vast amount of peer-reviewed scientific evidence, hobbling the agency's ability to make fact-based decisions about the nation's air and water."

In the short term, the confirmation fight over Wheeler's nomination is likely to be contentious, but stepping back, the larger political context is also worth dwelling on.

Many Virginians took seriously the idea that Youngkin and the GOP's slate of 2021 candidates really were mainstream Republicans. More than a few Biden voters assumed the risks were modest and GOP governance in the commonwealth wouldn't be alarming at all.

As Virginia's Inauguration Day nears, those assumptions are due for a reevaluation.