Day One

Photo Credit: WTVR

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Comments and ruminations on “Day One” actions:

Executive Order 1—”Inherently divisive” concepts. The headlines will have gotten this one wrong. The Governor has not prohibited the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, not that anyone was actually doing that. He has directed the Superintendent of Public Instruction to purge the Dept. of Education’s policies, directives, guidelines, etc. of any items that advance “inherently divisive” concepts or practices. As long as they stick to the fairly narrow definition of “inherently divisive” concepts laid out in the Executive Order, I don’t have any problem with this. Those definitions do not conflict with the traditional definition of critical race theory, anyway. If the administration goes after teachers who may be pointing out Virginia’s segregationist and racist past and the lasting effects of those past policies and practices, that would be going too far.

DOE overdid it with its Diversity, Inclusiveness and Equity campaign. It was just a little too much of beating people over the head. However, that message and approach has resonated and probably sunk in with a lot of areas and institutions and, much to the consternation of some commenters on this blog, likely will be difficult to turn back.
his whole idea of prohibiting “inherently divisive” actions is somewhat ironic.  Conservatives have long criticized liberals, and rightly so, for providing “safe spaces” to which minorities or others could retreat. This move to rid the schools of “inherently divisive” concepts could be seen as a way of protecting White kids from learning about, or being reminded of, the racist policies of their forebears. Furthermore, many conservatives have recently been very upset about protecting public statutes and names of public buildings and institutions that were seen to be “inherently divisive” by a segment of the population. Whether something is “inherently divisive” may be a matter of whose ox is being gored.

Executive Order 2—Rescinding mask mandate for public schools. We will see how this experiment with kids’ health goes. I wonder if individual school boards, citing CDC guidance, can institute mask mandates on their own. After all, they are the ones in whom the State Constitution invests “supervision of schools in each school division”.

Executive Order 3—Replacing the Parole Board. Everyone knew this was coming. Doing it in an Executive Order is a little bit of overkill.

Executive Order 4—Investigation of Loudoun County school board. This is a lot of overkill and smacks of going after one’s political opponents.

Executive Order 5—Chief Transformation Officer.  It is a good idea to “build a culture of transparency, accountability, and constructive challenge across our government; ensure employees at all levels of government are reminded that our government works for the citizens of Virginia; drive changes improving the effectiveness and efficiency of our government through tracking key performance metrics; identify, coordinate, and lead targeted transformation efforts.” But I thought that was one of the functions of the cabinet secretaries. That is certainly what Marla Decker did during her years as Secretary of Public Safety under Governor McDonnell. She had a meeting every month with agency heads to go over progress toward meeting objectives they had set jointly. And she demanded reams of metrics.

Executive Order 6 —Open for business. It is a good idea to review these regulations adopted in the middle of the pandemic. However, the order probably exaggerates their deleterious effects. For example, businesses have certainly had problems hiring workers, but I have not heard or read of any complaints that these regulations were what was “inhibiting the hiring of new workers.”

Executive Order 7—Human trafficking. No one will argue that human trafficking is not a horrific crime and every effort must be expended to curtail it. However, the General Assembly had a Commission on the Prevention of Human Trafficking and there are numerous laws on the books regarding reporting of human trafficking and assisting victims. I am not sure what utility another commission would serve.

Executive Order 8—Antisemitism commission. I am all for any effort to fight antisemitism. As long as we are promoting religious freedom and toleration, we might also have a commission on anti-Muslim acts and attitudes.

Executive Order 9—RGGI. This one falls short of Youngkin’s promise to withdraw from RGGI on Day One. He directs the applicable secretary and agency head to re-evaluate the costs and benefits of participation in RGGI and make the necessary preparations to repeal the regulations relating to RGGI. He also directs them to notify RGGI of “the Governor’s intent to withdraw from RGGI, whether by legislative or regulatory action.” That falls short of withdrawing. It is obvious that he is unsure whether he has the authority to do it by executive action. By the way, the EO claims that “the benefits of RGGI have not materialized.” It does not state what those benefits were supposed to be. Furthermore, it begs the question that it was never claimed that any benefits would appear overnight or in a couple of years. Taking action against climate change is a long-term challenge.

Executive Directive 1—Killing regulations by 25 percent. Ah, the old standby. The title of this directive, its initial language, and any subsequent headlines are misleading. The actual directive is to “to reduce by at least 25 percent the number of regulations not mandated by federal or state statute” [Emphasis added]. That contingency makes a big difference. Poor DPB. I feel sorry for my former colleagues who are being saddled with implementing this directive. It had to conduct a review of the regulations of several agencies in a pilot de-regulation evaluation. It took them several years to accomplish. Now, they have to do this with all executive agencies.

Executive Directive 2—Rescinding the vaccine mandate for state employees. He may want to rethink this one. I have heard of weekly reports over the past few months of someone in the Patrick Henry Building, where the Governor has his office, testing positive for COVID. And that is with many employees working from home and limited access to the building.

Final thoughts

A lot of this is virtue signaling. I understand; a new governor has to assure his base that they voted for the right guy. Symbolic gestures are important. Now, with Day Two comes the hard part: governing.

It has been a long tradition that Executive Order 1 directed that all state agencies provide equal opportunity for state employees regardless of race, sex, national origin, religion, etc. That was missing from Youngkin’s list. What sort of message does that send?