Republican Glenn Youngkin, a former private equity fund executive who has never previously held public office, signed 11 executive orders Saturday just hours after he was sworn in as Virginia’s 74th governor.
He abolished mandatory masks in public schools, eliminated vaccination requirements for public employees, and banned the teaching of critical race theory.
He also withdrew the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which aims to reduce carbon pollution in concert with neighboring states, and declared Virginia “open for business.” Youngkin nominated Andrew Wheeler, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Donald Trump, to the state’s top environmental post.
The string of orders seemed to contradict Youngkin’s statement of bipartisanship and optimism.
He promised to “restore confidence in the government and return power to the people” at the swearing-in ceremony in Richmond.
“Regardless of who you voted for, I promise to be your advocate, your voice, your governor,” he added. “It’s a new day in Virginia.”
Yongkin led the closing prayer himself.
“Father, we invite you to the next four years,” prayed Youngkin, the state’s first Republican governor since 2009. “Unite the people of Virginia.”
But the people of Virginia were already divided over his new orders.
“The war they’ve declared on black history is dangerous to say the least,” State Delegate Lamont Bagby (D), head of the Virginia Black Legislature, told reporters, The Washington Post reported. Bagby was referring to critical racial theory, which provides the basis for the study of slavery in America.
Another delegate, Democrat Elizabeth Guzman, who praised Youngkin’s “rallying tone”, later called his actions “divisive and disappointing”.
Youngkin will have to negotiate with the Republican-majority House of Delegates and the Democratic-controlled state Senate.