Governor Glenn Youngkin used his first State of the Commonwealth address to describe a Virginia in need of reform, with underfunded schools whose leaders are out of touch with parents, rising crime rates, rising cost of living, and a stalled economy. The Monday message contrasted with former Governor Ralph Northam’s State of the Commonwealth delivered last Wednesday, where Northam highlighted economic success, education that reckons with Virginia’s past, and progress on equity.

“From the perspective of everyday Virginia families, times are tough and the State of the Commonwealth is not what it should be,” Youngkin said. “The good news is that we have the ability to course-correct before this poor performance becomes permanent.”

That messaging contrast is reminiscent of the 2021 gubernatorial campaign. Youngkin’s speech echoed many of the promises he made on the campaign trail, including increased funding for police, cutting cost of living, improving Virginia’s business environment, and improving government through business-style leadership.

He stirred in a unity message for legislators: “Let’s set aside petty divisions, ego, self-advancement, and let’s join together to make the Virginia that we love better, stronger, freer.”

He focused the first half of his speech on education, with calls for teacher raises, more charter schools, and school safety improvements. He also highlighted his executive orders from Saturday banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory and divisive concepts, and allowing parents to opt their children out of mask mandates. He said he wanted parents to get advance notice before their children are exposed to sexually explicit content.

“My message to parents is this: you have fundamental rights enshrined by law by this General Assembly to make decisions with regard to your child’s upbringing, education, and care, and we will protect and assert that right,” Youngkin said.

Citing staffing shortages, Youngkin said he would fight Biden’s vaccine mandate for health workers.

“Our fight against COVID-19 will move forward based on this simple principle: we will protect lives and livelihoods. That means no more mandates and no more shut downs. As I said on Saturday, it means Virginia is open for business,” he said.

Republican legislators punctuated Youngkin’s speech by standing and clapping. Democrats occasionally joined in, especially when he encouraged Virginians to get vaccinated.

“Speaking to you as your governor, I’ll never tell you what you must do, but speaking to you as your neighbor and your friend I strongly encourage you to get the vaccine,” he said. “The data is clear: people who do not get the vaccine are four times as likely to be hospitalized.”

In the Democratic response, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) said, “In the midst of a pandemic prolonged by misinformation that is taking an economic, medical, and emotional toll on Virginians’ families, Governor Youngkin put forth an agenda that will take us backwards. ”

She said, “He is also continuing his efforts to use division and fear to score political points. Let’s tell the truth, clear and simple: Critical Race Theory is not taught in schools, but Governor Youngkin wants to put politics into the curriculum.”

Senator John Bell (D-Loudoun) said, “Democratic leadership over the last eight years has firmly established Virginia as one of the best states in the nation to raise a family, start a business, and prosper. CNBC has named Virginia as the nation’s number one state for business two years in a row, and the quality of our public schools is ranked fourth in the nation. Our health systems are some of the country’s best, and more Virginians than ever are covered by expanded Medicaid benefits, all because of Democrats’ focus and dedication.”

Bell criticized Youngkin policies including his plan to suspend the gas tax for a year, his policies on renewable energy, and his education policy.

Although Republicans control the House of Delegates, Democrats control the Senate. Bell said Senate Democrats would protect all Virginians.

He said, “We will not retreat when someone’s rights are threatened.”

Watch the address here:

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].