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  • Daniel Li

Democrats Take Control of Virginia’s Legislature: Implications for Policy and on Youngkin’s Term

Updated: Jun 9

On November 7, 2023, results from an off-year election in Virginia altered its political scene, challenging the power and beliefs of its current governor: Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). The Governor is familiar with a new change of scenery, since his rise to the governorship shocked many nationwide. In a statewide election that decided the control of the legislative branch, Democrats had many decisive victories throughout the commonwealth which allowed them to take back the House of Delegates, and maintain their control of the Senate thus splitting the government. 

Even though Youngkin and the Republican Party in Virginia spent millions of dollars on donations to candidates in hopes of securing a trifecta of Republican influence in the House, Senate and Governorship, their efforts were thwarted by the voters who disagreed with much of the newly proposed legislation. For the Republican Governor, this election indicated how unpopular his plans were. This recent election demonstrates that Youngkin’s plan to promote himself as the voice of parents in classrooms, and an advocate for the lives of their children is a strategy that has fallen short, as he now has to work with a Democrat-controlled legislature. 

Focusing this entire campaign on abortion rights and painting Youngkin as a person who has damaged the Virginian education system, Democrats were able to win statewide support and have a few agendas on their slate once the new session rolls around. Codifying abortion rights in the Virginian Constitution will be on the ballot in 2026 as Democrats will try to get the resolution through both chambers. Governor Youngkin still has his veto power, however, Virginian Democrats are confident that they can override it. Virginia is one of the last southern states that do not have their abortion rights curtailed and Governor Youngkin hopes to change that.  Democrats will also look to pass legislation to repel some of the laws Youngkin signed into effect, including the removal of the protections for transgender individuals in school settings.

Any changes from the legislature will be met by Youngkin’s veto, one of the last powers he has left to prevent any laws that he does not agree with from passing. Democrats will also look to pass gun control laws in the state to prevent future mass shootings and school shootings. Virginian Democrats have prepared a package for the legislature and encourage the governor to sign it into law, however, it will most likely be met with Youngkin’s veto. 

The path forward for Governor Youngkin and his agenda seems to be difficult and will be met with staunch opposition. It will be a new political test for him and his ability to reach across the aisle to pass legislation; however, he is accustomed to facing challenges. On November 3, 2021, news from Virginia’s gubernatorial race shocked the nation as it foreshadowed the critical 2022 midterms. Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in a state President Biden picked up by ten points in the 2020 Presidential Election. Serving as a warning for the future, Democrats were unable to send clear messages to their voters and lost the governorship due to voter fatigue. Attempts to tie their opponent to the former President Donald Trump, failed because of the public distance Youngkin set between them which then allowed him to thrust himself into the limelight. By focusing his campaign around the issues of parental rights in the realm of their child’s education and ending COVID-19 mask mandates, Youngkin successfully trapped McAuliffe and secured the Republican victory. The return of this issue to the commonwealth allowed Youngkin to present himself as the solution and the candidate who values the freedom of his constituents which COVID-19 restrictions have limited. For the last two years, Republicans held the Governorship and the House of Delegates while the Democrats controlled the Senate in Virginia as a new election cycle approached. 

During the first two years of Youngkin’s term, he delivered on a few of his campaign promises. For example, he passed $4 billion tax cuts and reeled back mask mandates in public schools. The governor removed protections for transgender children in schools and looks to ban critical race theory from being taught in the classroom because he believes it is inherently biased and lacks educational value. Giving parents more power in their children’s lives, he has held multiple town halls to discuss the rising concerns of social media platforms and their effects on children. Using this as another method in his “Parents’ Rights” campaign for more legislative seats, Youngkin has urged parents to work with his government to continue being more active and restrictive in their children’s lives for their benefit. Additionally, Youngkin removed the word “equity” from school policies and directories, including the state’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to fulfill a campaign promise he made on the trail. Youngkin and his allies also floated the idea of a fifteen-week abortion ban with few to no exceptions, however, it never came to fruition because Democrats held the Senate, which would have prohibited this from passing. Realizing that most of his legislative  ambitions required more Republicans in the legislature, Youngkin and the Republican Party began setting their sights on capturing a trifecta in the next election. 

Leading up to the recent 2023 election, attitudes regarding Youngkin’s policies and his ideas began to shift. On November 7, 2023, in a statewide election that decided the control of the legislative branch, Democrats experienced decisive victories throughout the commonwealth which allowed them to take back the House of Delegates, and maintain their control of the Senate thus splitting the government. With 100 seats up for grabs in the House of Delegates, Democrats won 51 while Republicans defended 49. In the Senate, Democrats protected 21 seats leaving Republicans with 19. For the Republican governor, this election indicated how unpopular his plans were. 

In this new political climate for Governor Youngkin, bipartisanship needs to be the path forward to bring forth new legislation to benefit the people of Virginia. Although the ideologies of a Republican governor and Democratic lawmakers are drastically different, finding common ground to start a healthy debate while discussing and bringing awareness to issues can bridge a gap between the political parties. The night that Youngkin discovered that he lost both chambers, he vowed to find a bipartisan solution to solve issues that plague Virginia. Virginia can become the bastion of bipartisanship for the nation to follow if Governor Youngkin and the Democratic leadership in the legislature come to a common consensus on goals.


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