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With slew of vetoes, Youngkin plays ‘hardball’ with Democrats

person speaks into microphone
Crixell Matthews
Gov. Glenn Youngkin campaigns in Chesterfield County. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed nine out of ten bills that reached his desk from Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) in a move that appears to be connected to an ongoing feud over gubernatorial appointments.

In all, Youngkin vetoed 26 bills – the most for a first-year governor since Jim Gilmore took office in 1998, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. All of the rejected proposals were sponsored by Democrats, and at least three passed the legislature unanimously.

“This is Governor Youngkin playing hardball,” says political analyst Bob Holsworth.  “I think this is going to make it a little more difficult for Governor Youngkin to get Democratic support from some of the amendments that he's likely to put in over time. And certainly, it just heightens the level of distrust that you have.”

Ebbin’s bills passed with bipartisan majorities and concerned relatively uncontroversial subject matter: creating a new fine for people who park gas-powered cars in electric vehicle parking spots, requiring home sellers to disclose if a property is in a historic district and repealing a law that requires an adult child to assist in providing for the support and maintenance of their parent.

The rejections appear mostly symbolic. Five of the proposals will become law anyway because Youngkin signed identical, House of Delegates-sponsored bills. Two others have a companion bill that Youngkin suggested revising. That legislation will be taken up at a veto session later this month.

Still, Youngkin’s move left Ebbin “stunned.”

“It is the polar opposite of what he campaigned on,” he said in a Twitter post. “These vetoes, from protecting living organ donors to enhancing consumer's data privacy to reforming the VEC are not in the best interest of Virginians.”

Ebbin declined an interview.

A spokesperson for Youngkin referred questions to veto statements accompanying the bills, which largely said Ebbin’s bills were “no longer necessary” because Youngkin signed or amended an identical House bill. In other cases, however, Youngkin signed both House and Senate versions of bills. Holsworth says Youngkin may be riffing on an old legislative maneuver. Majority parties have been known to strip minority party lawmakers from a popular bill to prevent them from taking credit.

“I think what Glenn Youngkin was doing here…was sending a signal to the Democrats, that if you were opposing everything I do, or if you didn't go along with my appointments, there's going to be a price to pay,” Holsworth says.

In a press release that accompanied all of his vetoes, Youngkin said the vetoes reaffirmed his commitment to making Virginia “the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”

The former private equity CEO has repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-controlled Senate, which rejected much of his agenda and his highest profile cabinet pick: Andrew Wheeler, the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Donald Trump.

The Senate’s rejection of Wheeler as Youngkin’s Secretary of Natural Resources sparked a tit-for-tat. House Republicans rejected 11 picks to boards and commissions put forward by former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam before he left office. The Senate then threw out all but one of Youngkin’s picks for the Parole Board and one for the state Safety and Health Codes Board. In a floor speech, Ebbin said the House “needs to be taught a lesson” for their rejection of Northam’s picks, which he called a “raw power grab.”

Ebbin has said he had a cordial meeting with Youngkin over the appointments in February. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Matt Moran, an unpaid Youngkin aide who also works as a GOP political operative, told Ebbin after that meeting that Ebbin had “threatened the governor.”

Moran said that Youngkin could sign Ebbin’s bills or “he implied that he could veto them all,” Ebbin told the Times-Dispatch. “He didn’t use the word veto. And I was a little bit shaken up, but I wasn’t going to retract my position.”

Rich Meagher, a political science professor at Randolph-Macon College, said that Youngkin’s tactics with Ebbin appeared to be at odds with his affable, dad-next-door campaign persona. He speculated that Youngkin, as a political newcomer, could be swayed by GOP advisors like Moran who were not known as “shrinking violets.” (Moran previously served as chief of staff to former GOP Speaker of the House Kirk Cox). Or Youngkin may be adjusting to a less top-down climate than his time in the business world – a lesson that Meagher says former Gov. Terry McAuliffe also had to learn.

“The energy and drive for policymaking comes from the General Assembly in the state,” Meagher said. “So I wonder if this suggests that Youngkin’s still trying to find his way on what role he's supposed to play in policymaking in the commonwealth. Particularly if all he can do is get involved in vendettas with legislators who dared to cross him on some issue.”

The latest escalation comes as a bipartisan group of lawmakers attempts to hammer out a new two-year budget. Youngkin and Republicans are pushing for deep tax cuts, while Senate Democrats say a state surplus should largely be used to shore up services like education.

Both Meagher and Holsworth predicted a tough road ahead. “This may be the most important part of what Governor Youngkin does going forward for his first year,” Holsworth said.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.