RICHMOND, Va. — Businessman Glenn Youngkin became Virginia’s governor Saturday, declaring on his first day as the state’s 74th leader that he would institute some of his campaign pledges.
Less than two hours after being sworn in outside the Virginia State Capitol in downtown Richmond, the Republican governor said he will incorporate or address nearly a dozen directives such as establishing a commission to combat antisemitism, rescinding the mask mandate for all state employees and allowing parents to decide whether their children wear masks in schools.
“Parents should have a say in what is taught in school because in Virginia, parents have a fundamental right to make decisions with regards to their child’s upbringing, education and care,” he said. “To parents, I say we respect you and we will empower you in the education of your children.”
Education was the driving force behind Youngkin’s election. A rallying cry for conservatives emerged after the Sept. 28 debate at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus with Democratic candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who said he didn’t believe “parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
During Youngkin’s roughly 25-minute speech Saturday with more than 8,000 in attendance, he also made other pledges to eliminate the state’s grocery tax, raise teacher pay and fully fund law enforcement.
Youngkin said he will work with every Virginian, no matter their political party, race or economic status.
He highlighted how trailblazers such as Virginia’s and the nation’s first Black governor, Douglas Wilder, who attended the inauguration and served on Youngkin’s transition team, boost optimism for the state’s future
He said his leadership team of Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares is the most diverse ever elected in the state. Sears became the first Black woman ever elected to that position and Miyares was the first Latino chosen as the state’s top prosecutor.
“With faith in a loving God, whose presence can be felt here today, and in partnership with Lt. Gov. Sears and Attorney General Miyares, our Cabinet and the duly elected leaders of the Virginia Assembly, we will chart and sail a course through our present troubled waters,” Youngkin said. “So we reach the shores of a new and better day — with more opportunity and more prosperity. What we can do together is truly limitless.”
Youngkin’s faith was one reason why Shirley Green of Fredericksburg, Virginia, supported the new governor.
Green, who leads True Repentance Deliverance Ministry with her husband, said his leadership team represents “true diversity.”
“They stand for family. They stand for God’s values [and] principles. They stand for education,” said Green, who’s resided in Fredericksburg for about 21 years.
The Rev. Malcolm Phillips, a pastor at International Ministry at Mok Yang Presbyterian Church in Fairfax, Virginia, said Youngkin’s election victory and those in attendance Saturday represent “hope.”
Phillips, a registered independent who voted for Younkin, became emotional as he talked about his father who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and endured racism.
“A military officer who served and was willing to die for his country couldn’t be respected,” he said as a tear streamed down his right cheek. “The Jim Crow that some people are talking about now is not even Jim Crow. I see hope while I’m here. What we need to do is just come together. When you’re together, you can talk about different things and don’t realize you have some of the same things in common.”
Crystal Thompson of Richmond said she just wanted to be in attendance for an event that happens once every four years.
“I just came out here and wish [Youngkin] the best,” said Thompson, who declined to say whether she voted for Youngkin. “He has the right morals and … will make the changes that we need.”
Several people took to social media to criticize Youngkin’s first-day actions such as allowing parents to decide whether their children wear masks in schools.
“Pretty solid that the stated aim of Virginia’s new government is to expose kids to disease but not history,” Fairfax Commonwealth Steve Descano tweeted Saturday.
Others also commented on Youngkin’s announcement for public schools to end the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), which think tank The Brookings Institute summarized as “U.S. social institutions [being] laced with racism embedded in rules and regulations that lead to different outcomes by race.”
Virginia educators have said CRT isn’t incorporated in the public-school curriculum.
Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras tweeted Sunday that the city’s school district will continue to teach students about the state’s history.
“The Commonwealth was literally created on the backs of enslaved Africans,” he said. “At [Richmond Public Schools], we will continue to study that and be honest about its profound implications for our students and families today.”