Virginia Senate blocks Youngkin’s picks for Parole Board

‘The House needs to be taught a lesson’

By: - March 10, 2022 2:34 pm

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax. (Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Democrats in the Virginia Senate voted Thursday to block Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s appointees to the Virginia Parole Board, another shot in an ongoing partisan battle over filling roles in state government.

The Senate voted 21-19 to block a normally routine resolution confirming four Youngkin appointees to the Parole Board and one appointee to the Safety and Health Codes Board. 

A month ago, the Republican majority in the House of Delegates took similar action to block 11 appointees of former Gov. Ralph Northam. The House’s move was retaliation for Senate Democrats’ refusal to confirm Andrew Wheeler, Youngkin’s controversial pick to serve as Virginia’s top environmental official.

The appointees blocked Thursday are Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin, Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, a former Richmond police officer who was wounded in a shooting, Tracy Banks, a Charlottesville lawyer and Carmen Williams, who previously worked with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

Youngkin’s pick for Parole Board chair, former judge Chadwick Dotson, was already confirmed in an earlier resolution.

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said Senate Democrats “weren’t going to be walked all over.”

“I think that the House needs to be taught a lesson,” Ebbin said.

Senate Republicans cried foul, accusing Democrats of dragging more appointees into a fight that could disrupt the Parole Board’s ability to operate.

“How childish is a phrase like that?,” Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, said in response to Ebbin’s comment.

Democrats countered by saying Republicans could have simply ended the fight when Wheeler was blocked.

“Don’t come to me crying about this when it was one group, and not on this side, that chose to escalate this war,” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax.

Cleaning up the Parole Board was a major campaign promise by Youngkin. Upon taking office, he fired Democratic appointees who had served on the board when it made a series of controversial release decisions without following proper notification procedures to victims and prosecutors. Attorney General Jason Miyares has also promised a new investigation into those decisions.

Even though the Senate blocked his appointees, Youngkin will be able to make new appointments to the Parole Board once the legislative session ends. But he cannot reappoint the same people rejected by the Senate, meaning the Youngkin administration will have to find a new slate willing to serve.

In a statement after the vote, Youngkin sought to tie Thursday’s events to the actions of the last Parole Board, saying he would continue his efforts to “reform the parole board” and “expose those conspiring to hide this from public view.”

“This is shocking,” Youngkin said. “The Democrats are continuing to cover up a scandal of their own creation.”

The governor’s statement did little to indicate how the standoff might end.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, said the vote was driven by “raw retribution.”

“It is a sad turn of events in the Senate,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the employment status of Parole Board nominee Carmen Williams.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville.