A clearer picture is emerging of Glenn Youngkin

July 14, 2021 12:02 am

Republican nominee for governor Glenn Youngkin speaks during a GOP rally at Eagles Nest Rockin’ Country Bar in Chesapeake, Va., June 5, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

It was difficult, at first, figuring out who Glenn Youngkin is. The Republican nominee for governor in Virginia has been something of a chameleon so far, hard to characterize, often evasive on positions.

You get the sense this is no accident, that the candidate and his campaign would prefer to spout pithy platitudes – “We need a new type of governor to bring a new day in Virginia” — than be locked down on specific policies. In one television ad, he doesn’t even identify which party he represents.

Go to Youngkin’s campaign website, and there’s no “Glenn’s Stand on the Issues,” or something similar. (My email to the campaign on this obvious absence wasn’t returned.) The lack of details is extremely odd for a newcomer who hopes to lead 8.5 million Virginians, while overseeing a roughly $70 billion annual budget and a state workforce of around 122,000.

You might dislike Democratic nominee and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and what he proposes to do in a second term (suspended by four years because of the state Constitution). Yet you can at least view plenty of his planned initiatives on his website, from education, to jobs and the economy, to plans for rebuilding the state following COVID-19, gun control and how to spend marijuana revenue.

You can detest McAuliffe’s bombast — it’s tiring — or his preternatural attraction to a bank of news cameras and voice recorders. But at least you get a semblance of who he is, what he represents and how he’d lead Virginia.

Ever so slowly, Virginians are discovering more about Youngkin — but not without plenty of effort.

The businessman-turned-novice politician, with a political slate blanker than most statewide candidates, is coming into view. The commonwealth has turned bluer over the past decade, and what Youngkin is selling might not find as receptive an audience if Virginians knew more about him.

Which explains the opacity of his campaign so far. It might be working, since early polls showed the contest nearly even.

Did he think Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential contest fair and square? The “big lie” Donald Trump propagated following Election Day, after all, incited the attempted overthrow of government Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.

Youngkin refused to say before the Republican convention, fearing he would alienate the party faithful and lose votes. Afterward, he finally acknowledged that Biden won, knowing he needed to pick up independents who have been incensed by the GOP’s refusal to give the president his due and push back on conspiracy theorists.

The Republican nominee’s statements on Biden haven’t been a profile in courage, or a respect for democracy. (Trump praised Youngkin’s candidacy, by the way.)

Youngkin said the state needs new regulations on voting, despite the fact fraud has been virtually nonexistent here – and elsewhere around the country. Other states have passed tougher voting laws making it tougher for Black and brown people to cast their ballots.

Youngkin, former co-CEO of The Carlyle Group, also has been fending off complaints about his reticence to discuss abortion rights, following the release of a video last week by a liberal activist. When asked whether he would defund Planned Parenthood or “take it to the abortionists,” he said he couldn’t elaborate during the general election campaign.

“When I’m governor and I have a majority in the House we can start going on offense,” Youngkin said. “But as a campaign topic, sadly, that in fact won’t win my independent votes that I have to get.”

That’s something Virginians — pro-choice or anti-abortion — should know. Would he endorse new restrictions that might force abortion clinics to close, for example?

This gets into the area of “courage of your convictions,” and all that.

At times, though, he’s unequivocal. Youngkin said earlier this year it was “a sad thing” that Medicaid was expanded in Virginia under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Really? What about the residents who gained health care and no longer had to use the emergency room as the medical option of last resort?

Before the Virginia expansion took effect in January 2019, Medicaid had 1.25 million members, a state spokeswoman told me by email. Today the number has grown to 1.85 million, some of that growth attributable to the pandemic. Workers have lost their jobs — and the health-care coverage that goes with them.

It’s great there was a safety net for Virginians at a time more than 607,000 people across the country died because of COVID-19.

The GOP nominee recently floated the idea of eliminating the state’s personal income tax to boost economic growth, but he hasn’t said how he’d replace the huge hole in the budget such a change would cause.

The bigger problem is the lack of candor and specificity Youngkin has displayed so far. Virginians deserve to know how he would wield power before Nov. 2 – not after. They already know how his Democratic opponent would do things.

“I’m not a politician,” Youngkin says on his campaign’s website.

He’s sure acting like one. That much is clear.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]