“What’s it like to have Terry McAuliffe block you from having a say in your child’s education? This mom knows — she lived through it. Watch her powerful story.”

— Glenn Youngkin, Republican gubernatorial candidate, in a tweet promoting a new ad, Oct. 25

In the final week of the Virginia gubernatorial election, Youngkin has released an ad that quickly went viral, earning more than 1 million views 24 hours after being released. The ad features a “mother” detailing her concern about a “reading assignment” her “child” was given by his teacher.

But this was no ordinary mom, no ordinary book and the child in question was a senior in high school. Let’s take a line-by-line tour through Laura Murphy’s voice-over and provide some missing context.

“As a parent it’s tough to catch everything. So when my son showed me his reading assignment, my heart sunk.”

Viewers might be forgiven for thinking a young child was involved. Laura Murphy’s son Blake was taking Advanced Placement English Literature, which is described by the College Board as “an introductory college-level literary analysis course.” The reading assignment was the best-selling novel “Beloved,” by Toni Morrison, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. When Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993, the citation cited her novels as “characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.”

“It was some of the most explicit material you can imagine.”

The novel is about the abuses of slavery and is dedicated to “Sixty Million and more,” the estimated number of people who died in slavery. The novel is inspired by a real-life figure, Margaret Garner, who tried to escape slavery and, when captured, tried to take her life and those of her children. She only managed to kill her 2-year-old daughter, however, and then was tried in one of the longest and most notable fugitive slavery trials of the mid-1800s.

Memories of sexual abuse and exploitation haunt many characters, and rape is a constant theme of the novel, helping explain the infanticide at the center of it.

An online guide to teaching “Beloved” for the AP class notes that a question about the novel appears “time and time again” on the AP Literature exam, which suggests that it is an important text for students. But the guide warns: “It is important to forewarn students of the intensity of the text; they may find themselves hating parts of it or being disgusted by it, and these reactions are appropriate. We can’t turn our heads and pretend like these things didn’t happen. They did. They are woven into the fabric of our history, and sometimes we border on forgetting about this dark part of our country’s narrative.”

In 2013, a Washington Post article on Murphy quoted her son Blake as saying he had “night terrors” after reading the book. “It was disgusting and gross,” he said. “It was hard for me to handle. I gave up on it.”

“I met with lawmakers. They couldn’t believe what I was showing them. Their faces turned bright red with embarrassment.”

Maybe this happened. But one hopes these lawmakers were familiar with a novel as famous as “Beloved” and read the material in context. This is about the experience of enslaved people, after all.

“They passed bills requiring schools to notify parents when explicit content was assigned.”

The two bills, passed in 2016 and 2017, were not entirely the same but both would have required notification if a teacher planned to provide instructional material with sexually explicit content. The bills would have made Virginia the first state to allow parents to block their children from reading books in school that contain sexually explicit material.

“It was bipartisan.”

This is correct. The bills passed by wide margins. Fourteen House Democrats and one Senate Democrat supported the 2016 bill and eight House Democrats and one Senate Democrat supported the 2017 bill. Many of the Democrats were members of the Black caucus.

“It gave parents a say — the option to choose an alternative for my children. I was so grateful.”

Under the bills, parents would have been given an opportunity to review the materials upon request. If a parent objected, a student would be given “nonexplicit instructional material and related academic activities.”

“But then Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed it. Twice.”

Both times, lawmakers narrowly failed to override McAuliffe’s vetoes. In his first veto message, McAuliffe said “this legislation lacks flexibility and would require the label of ‘sexually explicit’ to apply to an artistic work based on a single scene, without further context.” In his second veto message, he said the Virginia Board of Education had “determined that existing state policy regarding sensitive or controversial instructional material is sufficient and that additional action would be unnecessarily burdensome on the instructional process.”

“He doesn’t think parents should have a say. He said that. He shut us out.”

Murphy is referring to what is considered a flub by McAuliffe in his second debate with Youngkin. “Yeah, I stopped the bill that — I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach,” he said. McAuliffe later accused Youngkin of taking his words “out of context” in campaign ads. “As parents, Dorothy and I have always been involved in our kids’ education,” he said in his own ad. “We know good schools depend on involved parents.”

“Glenn Youngkin — he listens. … Join me in voting for Glenn Youngkin.”

Here’s where Murphy vouches for Youngkin. But she’s not a disinterested party. Her family is well-connected politically and active on behalf of Republicans. Her husband, Daniel R. Murphy, is corporate counsel at the powerhouse lobbying firm BGR Group and an active backer of Republican politicians from across the county. Federal Election Commission records show more than 280 contributions by Dan and Laura Murphy (mostly Dan) over the last 10 years.

Both Dan and Laura contributed $5,600 each in 2019 to the Trump Victory Committee and $5,600 each (the maximum) to President Donald Trump’s 2019 campaign. Dan also contributed $2,000 to Youngkin’s campaign, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

Blake, the former high-schooler, was a summer intern in the Trump White House and is now associate general counsel at the National Republican Congressional Committee. (His LinkedIn page appears to have disappeared from the Web after the ad posted.) Another son, Michael, was the subject of a failed impeachment drive when, as University of Florida student body president, he invited Donald Trump Jr. to give a speech in exchange for a $50,000 fee.


In response to the ad, McAuliffe accused Youngkin of seeking to ban books from schools and “silencing the voices of Black authors.” At the time of the vetoes, some critics said the law could have led to book banning, but McAuliffe did not raise that objection in his veto messages.

Youngkin spokesman Christian Martinez defended the ad.

“Parents of every race, color, creed and political party want to have a say in their own child’s education, but Terry McAuliffe is smearing them as racists and that’s a disgusting new low, even for him,” he said. “Does McAuliffe think the 18 Democrats who voted for this bipartisan legislation are racists? Does McAuliffe think the 14 members of the Black Caucus who voted for this bipartisan legislation are racists? Why is McAuliffe so dead set against parents simply being notified if their child has been assigned sexually explicit reading material? Democrats, Independents, and Republicans are supporting Glenn Youngkin because he listens to parents while Terry McAuliffe is trying to shut out and silence moms and dads.”

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