Republican Glenn Youngkin was sworn in as Virginia’s 74th governor on Saturday.
Youngkin, a former private-equity executive, defeated former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in November.
The governor will face divided government, with a GOP-led House and a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Glenn Youngkin was inaugurated as Virginia’s 74th governor on Saturday, becoming the first Republican to occupy the Executive Mansion since 2014 and reinvigorating a state GOP that had suffered years of statewide losses.
Youngkin — a 55-year-old former private-equity executive and first-time political candidate — took the oath of office on the south Portico of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond after defeating former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe last November.
“No matter who you voted for, I pledge to be your advocate, your voice, your governor,” Youngkin said during his speech, where he reaffirmed his commitment to eliminate the grocery tax and empower parents of public school students, issues that he ran on heavily during his campaign.
He succeeded former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who was term-limited and ineligible to run for reelection.
The newly-installed governor led a sweep of Republican statewide offices — with Winsome Sears becoming the Commonwealth’s first Black female lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares as the first Latino attorney general in Virginia history — in a state that in recent years has leaned toward the Democratic Party.
Before the 2021 fall elections, Republicans had not won a statewide election in the Commonwealth since 2009, when former state attorney general and then-gubernatorial nominee Bob McDonnell led the party to landslide victories up and down the ballot.
Last year, the GOP faced a much different political landscape.
The party ceded its majority in the House of Delegates in 2019 as Democrats reaffirmed their ascendancy in the state’s suburban areas, which had long helped the GOP maintain power in the state legislature.
In the 2020 election, then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden easily defeated then-President Donald Trump by a 10-point margin (54%-44%) in Virginia, fueled by the Republican commander-in-chief’s massive unpopularity in the Commonwealth’s fast-growing suburban areas.
While many observers expected McAuliffe to cruise to victory against a Trumpian challenger last year, Republicans chose to nominate Youngkin — a relative unknown in most state political circles — in a ranked-choice voting system.
Realizing that a full embrace of Trump’s brand of politics was not politically tenable in blue-trending Virginia, Youngkin ran a race focused on education and the economy in an effort to to peel off swing voters who had fueled Democratic gains in the state. It worked.
His strategy involved running against the teaching of critical race theory to students, despite the discipline not being instructed to children in the Commonwealth’s K-12 public schools.
Critical race theorists have examined how America’s history of racism continue to reverberate through laws and policies that exist today, and Republicans — energized by Youngkin’s new administration — are planning to employ it as a wedge issue in the 2022 midterm elections.
Despite Republican exuberance about their newfound power in the state, they will face divided government. While Republicans were able to recapture the House of Delegates last fall, they control the chamber by a narrow 52-48 edge — and Democrats still control the state Senate, albeit by a slender 21-19 margin.
And while Youngkin has named several prominent Virginians to his administration, tapping former US Office of Personnel Management director and ex-Heritage Foundation president Kay Coles James as the next secretary of the commonwealth, along with former state attorney general Richard Cullen as his counselor, the governor hit a speedbump with legislative Democrats in naming former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler as the Commonwealth’s secretary of natural resources.
Wheeler, who led the EPA under Trump, has received a torrent of criticism from Democrats for his environmental policies, including the repeal of water protections that were implemented during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
However, in a recent interview with Central Virginia-based VPM, Youngkin continued to back Wheeler, who will need to be confirmed by both houses of the Virginia legislature.
“Andrew is going to be on the Glenn Youngkin team,” the governor said. “He is incredibly qualified.”
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