Where Virginia Democrats Should Go From Here

Saturday saw the changing of the guard in Virginia. Understandably, most of this site has been dedicated to the new powers in Richmond – both in the executive branch and the House of Delegates. However, there is still another party in town, with narrow control of the State Senate, no less. Virginia Democrats are getting plenty of advice on how to proceed from their progressive and moderate wings. Now it’s time for the conservative feather to weigh in.

There are certain policy areas that are sure to come up (and indeed, have come up already) that will see disagreement between Governor Youngkin et al and the Democrats. The contours of these disagreements are being drawn, but the lines aren’t sharpened just yet. If the Democrats make the right decisions on how to oppose the Youngkin Administration, they will find themselves a popular and effective opposition – and even a conservative one.

First up is Youngkin’s tax cut proposal. At present, Democrats are fixated on what spending would have to be reduced to “pay” for it. The nature of the current Virginia surplus makes that a hard sell. More important is the Keynesian nature of Youngkin’s plan – exactly the opposite of what is needed in these inflationary times (that also applies to Democrats’ calls for more spending, in Richmond or in Washington). It would be far better if Democrats proposed alternative, supply-side tax reforms, such as a reduction in corporate taxes, or something with non-economic benefits like child tax credits.

It will surprise no one that K-12 education is a major flashpoint between the parties. Youngkin has already taken aim at “divisive concepts” in his executive order on the subject. Whatever one thinks of critical race theory (and colleague Kristina Nohe makes clear how overblown – and sinister – the panic-mongering on this is), Democrats would be safer and smarter to shift the focus to the dangers of overruling local school boards. The government closest to the people is most responsive to them – and that includes on education. As much as the GOP likes to talk about parental input, parents will have far less impact with a state legislature than a local school board.

This same logic can be extended to COVID mandates. Again, Youngkin has already invalidated mask mandates at the local level and the vaccination mandate for state employees. Already localities are balking and Youngkin is responding with threats. Local vaccination mandates haven’t been touched yet, but I’m sure there will be at least some Republicans determined to get rid of them). Again, Democrats should defend localities’ right to govern in a way that’s best for their residents. We’re also likely to see a DeSantis-wannabe in the legislature try to ban private COVID mandates, which should be a slam-dunk for Democrats to oppose. Defend local government and private businesses against an overreaching Richmond.

Regarding Youngkin’s Cabinet, there is already some … debate regarding the Secretary-designate for the Environment, Andrew Wheeler. Much of my party is looking at his policy positions, but I’d recommend a focus on Wheeler’s apparent deprioritizing of scientific data. Wheeler is entitled to his opinion, but he is not entitled to his own facts. I would also recommend the Democrats in Richmond vet Secretary of Administration-designate Lyn McDermid’s choice to lead the Department of Elections before deciding on her nomination.

Finally, since this is my post, I’m bringing back my quixotic battle against the COPN regime. Sadly, there are only three bills proposed to reduce the scope of the corporatist fiasco that is COPN. I am pleased to see that the most effective one is authored by Chap Petersen, as my party is usually the one far less likely to smile on COPN reform. I’d recommend Democrats shift to support COPN reform by supporting any effort to scale back its scope – including those from across the aisle (of which, as I write this, there is only one).

The role of the opposition is to oppose, but not mindlessly and without cause. Moreover, the reason for opposing is as important as the decision to do so. For all of the Republicans’ insistence that we’re far-left yahoos, the Youngkin-led GOP is leaving ample space for worthy criticism from their right. The opportunity is there for Democrats – and Virginia will be far better off if they take it.

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