Governor Glenn Youngkin announced an “end of COVID-19 related fines and penalties” Tuesday while issuing an executive order to require agencies to report fines, fees, and suspensions related to the shutdowns. In an accompanying press release, he said his upcoming budget proposal would include language ordering agencies to halt further enforcement actions and direct Secretary of Finance Stephen Cummings to develop a reimbursement process.
“I am today requiring a statewide review of COVID-19 related penalties imposed by the Northam administration. The fact that businesses are still dealing with COVID-19 related penalties and fines is infuriating. Livelihoods are on the line,” Youngkin said in a press release. “In the previous administration, we saw our government shut down businesses, close our schools, and separate us from each other. While we can’t undo the damage done during the Northam administration, we are taking action going forward to end COVID-era draconian overreach.”
However, Gourmeltz owner Matt Strickland, who is running for the Virginia State Senate, said the order hasn’t changed anything.
“That executive order does nothing to help anybody,” Strickland told The Virginia Star. “All that executive order says, in short, is that there needs to be a list of businesses and individuals compiled and given to the Secretary of Finance by January 15.”
Strickland said there’s no deadline for Cummings to make recommendations to Youngkin.
“So in short, that does nothing for my situation right now, and it also does not ensure that it’s going to do anything for any small business or any individual that was prosecuted by COVID mandates,” he said.
Strickland has been the face of business resistance to COVID-19 regulations in Virginia after resisting bar closures and mask mandates, resulting in the suspension of his restaurant health permit. Then, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control revoked Gourmeltz’s alcohol license for violating a regulation requiring compliance with health codes. After a court battle in November 2022, the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC) served a court order suspending liquor licenses for 15 days, then raided the restaurant on December 2, alleging Gourmeltz was illegally possessing and selling alcoholic beverages.
Republicans have used Gourmeltz as a location for campaign events, including a recent event where Youngkin appeared alongside congressional candidate Yesli Vega.
Strickland said he’s spoken with Youngkin and Miyares, urging them to do something about the situation. He said his advocacy motivated Youngkin to issue the executive order.
After Youngkin’s press release, Delegate Tara Durant (R-Stafford), also running for the GOP nomination for Senate District 27, posted a Facebook post suggesting that the governor will ask her to sponsor legislation related to the issue.
“No small business, restaurant, or law-abiding Virginian should be targeted or harassed by unelected bureaucrats because of the Northam administration’s overreaching and devastating COVID-19 lockdown orders. I look forward to working with Governor Youngkin and carrying this legislation at his request,” Durant wrote.
“That legislation was crafted in direct response to me being prosecuted by COVID mandates, and then the governor turns around and gives that bill to my opponent to carry it,” Strickland told The Star. “So, huge slap in the face, you know what I mean?”
Durant has no publicly visible legislation in the list of bills pre-filed for the upcoming General Assembly session. A Youngkin spokesperson didn’t confirm if the governor had asked Durant to sponsor any legislation, declining to comment on the situation beyond highlighting the text of the executive order.
Strickland is also critical of Youngkin for not taking immediate action to have Gourmeltz’s liquor licenses restored.
“So at the disposal of his executive powers, he can fire the entire ABC board, just like he did the parole board,” he said.
Primary Battle Against Durant
Strickland’s opposition to Republican politicians is a significant component of his run against Durant for the nomination. He has criticized Youngkin’s order in multiple appearances on conservative radio this week, including The Vince Coglianese Show, Richmond’s Morning News with John Reed, and The John Fredericks Show, although he said that unnamed media outlets had refused to have him on.
“They told me they can’t have me on because the governor is a friend of the show,” Strickland told Fredericks on Thursday.
Fredericks, who is also The Star’s publisher, endorsed Strickland.
When Strickland first entered the field for Senate, he was set to challenge State Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania) under old district lines. Under new lines, there’s no incumbent, and the GOP nominee will be favored to win the race, with district voters picking Republicans in most recent elections, according to Virginia Public Access Project estimates.
Strickland said he hadn’t gotten much support in the primary race from Republicans. Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) supported Gourmeltz’s battle against COVID-19 regulations, but Freitas is also a close ally of Reeves. That puts Strickland in a difficult spot since he’s not likely to get much backing from either Reeves or Freitas after initially challenging Reeves.
Strickland said, “He’s [Reeves] respected by other establishment Republicans, but that doesn’t matter because that’s not who votes for us. Who votes for us is the people. The people know who I’m about. They know how much I’m willing to give up for the Constitution, and in turn, for them. And I don’t have to tell them, because the proof is in the pudding. I’ve done it,” he said.
Durant didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Digital Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Editor’s Note: John Fredericks is the Publisher of The Virginia Star.