Gubernatorial Appointment Politics At Work

Suparna Dutta
Photo credit: Education News

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Last year, Republicans in the General Assembly rejected three of former Governor Northam’s appointments to the State Board of Education, giving Governor Glenn Youngkin the opportunity to appoint a majority of the members of that board. Last night, Senate Democrats partially returned the favor by rejecting one of Youngkin’s appointees

That rejected member was Suparna Dutta, a co-founder of the Coalition for TJ, and a fierce critic of the new admissions policy for the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County. In an unusual development, her rejection did not result as an amendment from the Committee on Privileges and Elections, as is usually the case. Apparently, opposition to her had been brewing since the committee reported the bill (SB 276) and her name was deleted from the bill on a floor amendment offered by Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield). It passed on a party line vote of 22-18.
It certainly did not help Dutta’s cause that Ginni Thomas, the outspoken wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justine Clarence Thomas, e-mailed Virginia state senators urging them to support Dutta’s appointment and calling her opponents “leftist thugs who hate diverse voices, unless they control them.” And Dutta did not help herself by recently referring to the history SOL standards proposed by the prior Board of Education as “almost like activist civics, activist history.” She went on to deny that the Constitution enshrined slavery, arguing that the Three-Fifths Clause was “was a compromise… to limit the congressional representation of the Southern states.”  (See here and here.)

On another floor amendment, the Senate voted to remove Steven Buck, a former prosecutor appointed to the Parole Board, from the list of appointees. In offering the amendment, Sen. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) contended that Buck hardly ever voted to grant parole. His amendment was adopted, 22-18, on a party-line vote.

The Committee had proposed an amendment deleting Colin Greene’s appointment as Commissioner of Health. Greene had created controversy last year by denying that systemic racism played a role in maternal health or infant mortality rates. Even Gov. Youngkin was upset with that remark at the time.  Saying that he was “disappointed” that Greene was not communicating the administration’s priorities, he went on to declare, “I am outraged that right now in Virginia a black mother is three times more likely to die from childbirth and that hasn’t materially improved in a generation.” The amendment passed 22-17 on a party-line vote.

With regard to a nomination much discussed on this blog, Bert Ellis held on by the narrowest of margins to his appointment to the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia. Senators Chap Petersen (Fairfax) and Lynwood Lewis (Accomack) bucked their Democratic colleagues and voted against the Committee amendment to delete his name from the list of appointments. That made the vote 20-20 and the Lieutenant Governor voted “No” to break the tie and defeat the amendment.

My Soapbox

It certainly emphasizes the increasing diversity and changing politics of the Commonwealth when a female immigrant is appointed by a Republican governor to one of the most prominent state agency boards and when a female Muslim is elected as a Democratic state senator in Chesterfield County.