VIRGINIA BEACH — Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) has been slow to roll out plans and policies since his upset win on Nov. 2, but instead has continued taking his campaign message of tax cuts and parental empowerment directly to voters around Virginia.
The rallies are a departure from the norm in this tradition-bound state. All three of Youngkin’s most recent predecessors had teams ready to go the day after being elected.
Youngkin, a former private equity executive, ran as a “political outsider” who had never held elected office. He waited until a week after the election to officially name his transition team and launch a transition website, and he has given few media interviews apart from appearances on Fox News and conservative podcasts.
Some Republicans in Richmond have fretted about the slow pace of Youngkin’s rollout, with a few suggesting that it’s the result of tension within his groups of advisers. A new governor has to staff scores of government positions and line up legislative priorities for the General Assembly session that convenes in January. Youngkin’s inauguration is set for Jan. 15.
“There’s been a little bit of a learning curve,” said one Republican operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive subject. The question, this person said, is “to what extent do we turn to people with government experience and to what extent do we stick with this outsider team? That’s the core reason for the slow rollout.”
But Rich Meagher, a political scientist at Randolph-Macon College, said Youngkin’s pace might be at least partly intentional.
“What Youngkin has shown is a kind of intuitive sense that he isn’t a traditional type of politician,” Meagher said. Going back out to voters before issuing policy pronouncements “suggests that governance mode is going to be a lot like campaign mode,” he said. “It’s about symbolism.”
In the absence of specifics, Youngkin’s rallies provide clues about what to expect in his administration — as well as highlight the wild enthusiasm that helped him become the first Republican to win statewide in Virginia since 2009.
On Thursday, Youngkin marched in the Veterans Day parade in Virginia Beach then staged a rally at a barbecue joint near Lynnhaven Inlet. Supporters spilled onto the patio and into the parking lot. Classic rock blared across a bobbing sea of caps bearing “Veterans for Glenn Youngkin” logos or the names of Navy ships or combat units.
Youngkin emerged to thunderous cheers over the buzz of “Spirit in the Sky,” the 1960s hit that name-checks Jesus and is a staple at his campaign events. And Youngkin asked the crowd to join him in a brief opening prayer.
Towering over the crowd, the 6-foot-5-inch Youngkin appeared to have tempered his message — just slightly — from his days on the campaign trail. He drew roars of approval for talking about the importance of parental involvement in schools, but made no mention of critical race theory — the academic concept about teaching racial history that Youngkin spent the summer promising to ban but isn’t actually on Virginia’s K-12 curriculum.
Also gone was any mention of “failed” Democratic leadership; Youngkin spoke Thursday about working with Democrats to get things done in Richmond, where he is likely to have a House of Delegates under narrow Republican control and a state Senate with a slight Democratic edge.
“I have already had a chance to speak with or meet with many, many of the legislators from both sides of the aisle, and talk about what we want to go get done together,” he said. “And it’s kind of fun to watch everybody jump in together.”
The big objective, he said, is reducing taxes. He mentioned pledges to eliminate the
2.5 percent tax on groceries; exempt $40,000 in veteran pensions from taxes; and issue rebates to all taxpayers.
Youngkin spoke of “making sure our schools stand for excellence again” and launching charter schools, while adding that he also intends to seek healthy funding for education. He touched off deafening cheers by promising to seek a curriculum “focused on teaching our children how to think and not what to think.”
He lingered on the issue of parents and schools, the topic that seemed to ignite his campaign in its closing weeks and give him his edge over Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
“This was not a political moment,” he said, his voice becoming hushed with urgency, “it was a parent moment . . . Parents all locked arms. Parents from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, said ‘My kids matter.’ And we said ‘yes they do!’ ”
Youngkin pledged support for law enforcement and said he would increase the capacity of the state’s behavioral health system. And he promised to clean house at the state parole board, which has been mired in a scandal over allegations that members violated policy in releasing some inmates. In what seemed an acknowledgment that many of his other “Day One” priorities actually require General Assembly approval, he added quietly: “And that one the governor can do by himself.”
As he did during the campaign, though, Youngkin pivoted from speaking about energizing Virginia’s economic development efforts to an emotional tribute to the state’s heritage — without mentioning the painful reckoning with racial history that provoked last year’s social justice protests.
“We stand here together truly united as Virginians,” he said. “And one of the things that was sweeping over this entire commonwealth was a refreshing of the spirit of Virginia. The spirit of Virginia that, yes, is rested in our history, the shoulders of giants that we stand on — Washington, Jefferson, and Madison and Monroe, and Patrick Henry.”
Combined with dreams for a better future, he said, those spirits “can strengthen Virginia like you have never seen.”
Afterward, supporters lined up to hug, shake hands and pose for pictures with Youngkin and his wife, Suzanne. Several said they had never felt more optimistic, reflecting the surge in Republican enthusiasm that led to record turnout in the election.
“I thought it was very uplifting and positive. He’s trying to get rid of some of this negativity we’ve been having,” said Linda Hartman, 72, of Chesapeake.
“Astounding. Amazing. Everything I wanted to hear,” said Alan Tyler, 64, of Virginia Beach. “I’m so proud to be an American today.”