IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Image: Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin attends a debate in Alexandria on Sept. 28, 2021.
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin attends a debate in Alexandria on Sept. 28, 2021.Cliff Owen / AP file

Why Glenn Youngkin’s rough start in Virginia matters

Virginia's governor told voters there would be no radical shifts from the fleece-wearing dad who likes basketball. Now Virginians know better.


When Virginia legislators passed a bipartisan measure to rein in negligent landlords, proponents were delighted. After too many horror stories about slumlords, policymakers in the commonwealth came up with a solution that was backed by both the Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Virginia Apartment and Management Association.

By all appearances, it was a reform package that would benefit many Virginians. Even 16 Republican lawmakers in Richmond voted with Democrats to advance the legislation.

But as the local NPR affiliate reported, the bill was nevertheless vetoed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The report quoted Democratic Del. Cia Price saying, “I don’t know what the governor was thinking.”

That’s been a fairly common sentiment lately.

In fact, just last week, the GOP governor also vetoed 26 other bills, many of which were approved with broad bipartisan support.

In a piece that was published before Youngkin vetoed the anti-slumlord bill, the editorial board of The Washington Post marveled at the governor’s petty divisiveness.

On taking office, the governor pledged to unify Virginians. In fact, he has done the opposite, stoking cultural wars and picking small fights.

The editors added that Youngkin has stooped to levels of pettiness unseen in the history of the office — and it’s an office that dates back to 1776.

That’s hardly an unreasonable assessment. The governor’s first three months in office have been difficult to watch, as Youngkin careens from one political mess to the next. When he’s not picking unnecessary fights with school boards, his political operation is picking unnecessary fights with teenagers.

Youngkin also pulled Virginia out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which will benefit no one — except polluters — while also trying (and failing) to make Donald Trump’s favorite coal industry lobbyist the steward of Virginia’s natural resources.

He’s also touted a tip line parents can use to report school teachers who reference “divisive” subjects in classrooms, but when asked to share the concerns raised via the tip line, Youngkin has insisted that the submissions must remain hidden from the public.

Did I mention that the governor has only been on office for 96 days?

As for why this might matter to those outside of the commonwealth, I continue to see Youngkin’s tenure as foreshadowing at a national level. Circling back to our earlier coverage, as a conservative candidate running in a state President Joe Biden won by nearly 10 points, the Republican assured voters he’d focus on mainstream priorities. The subtext was hardly subtle: Virginians need not fear Republican governance. There would be no radical shifts from the fleece-wearing dad who likes basketball.

It worked: GOP candidates won victories up and down the ballot, fueled in part by voters who backed Democrats a year earlier, who assumed Republicans weren’t interested in a dramatic turn to the right.

Indeed, it’s easy to imagine similar dynamics unfolding nationwide in the fall: A mainstream electorate, unsatisfied with the status quo and increasingly skeptical of the incumbent party, takes a chance on the alternative — which, like Youngkin last year, is offering plenty of assurances about responsible governance and a better brand of politics.

Virginians are learning that those assurances sometimes don’t amount to much.

Plenty of observers have taken note. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson recently argued in a column that the slate of GOP officeholders in Virginia “might look like something new — fresh-faced and laudably diverse — but so far, at least, they act more like members in good standing within the Cult of Trump. Someday, I hope, the Republican Party will escape the grip of a certain angry pensioner in Florida. Until then, don’t be fooled — and don’t give them your votes.”