Leahy: Virginia May Be Losing Its Love for Mask Mandates, but It Remains Enamored of Its Grocery Tax

There are times in Virginia politics turns on a dime. There are many more when, regardless of who commands a majority in the General Assembly, never mind who has the four-year lease on the Executive Mansion, politics remains remarkably stable.

We had a bit of both in the past few days: A swift change of partisan hearts on mask mandates in public schools, a renewed dedication to corporate welfare and an ingrained aversion to eliminating the tax on groceries.

Last week ended with an Arlington County Judge ruling that Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) did not have the authority to make masking optional in schools through executive order. The General Assembly had delegated that decision to local school boards. The next step seemed entirely logical: Want to change the mask rules, governor? Get the General Assembly to do it.

And, on Tuesday, that’s exactly the direction the Senate moved in, with 10 Democrats joining all 19 Republicans on an amendment that would, in the words of Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico), “basically codify [Youngkin’s] executive order.”

Why the change of heart? Pure politics. Other Democratic governors were dropping the mask requirements, which offered cover. As Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) said, “It seems to me we’re getting to the time where it’s time to move on.”

And there’s no better time to move on than early in a midterm election year, when an opportunity to defang the masking issue arises.

But that swift change of heart is the rare exception in Virginia politics. Most of the time, the worthies assembled in Richmond aren’t eager to make massive changes. That brings electoral risk and the potential for a loss of power and prestige. Democrats learned that lesson the hard way last November, when what they assumed would be decades of trifecta control in Richmond collapsed after a single, two-year term.

What never collapses in Richmond is the deep-rooted, bipartisan practice of corporate welfare. The most recent and perhaps most galling example is the rush to create a football authority in the commonwealth that would be able to finance the construction of a state-of-the-at stadium for some lucky NFL franchise owner.

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