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Opinion/Editorial: Youngkin plays political game with Loudoun Co.

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Virginia Legislature

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, right, speaks to the media after leaving a meeting of the Senate Republican caucus at the Capitol Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Richmond, Va. Legislators are meeting today to consider the Governor’s vetos.

The Loudoun County School Board was a convenient whipping boy for Glenn Youngkin when he ran for governor last year. The board was under fire for mismanaging two sexual assaults that occurred on school property and over controversies centering on race and gender.

As governor, Youngkin recently took that animus a step too far.

He tried to use his power to punish the school board.

He tried to change the board’s term limits, forcing its members to face new elections this fall, shortening the terms of most of them.

It was an abuse of his power, and we applaud the state Senate for quashing it.

Gov. Youngkin appears to have decided to interfere with one county’s business over political differences, something that is without precedent in modern-day Virginia. If a mayor somewhere in Virginia doesn’t please the governor, can he try to change the election rules there, too?

Legislatures do sometimes pass bills that affect localities. Last year, Democrats led the move to change the date of local elections from May to November.

This is different. Youngkin is picking on one school board in one county. Among other reasons this is wrong, according to A.E. Dick Howard, the University of Virginia law professor who oversaw the drafting of the last version of Virginia’s constitution in 1971, bills aimed at punishing specific individuals is prohibited.

The state constitution also does not allow legislation aimed at affecting elections in specific localities.

There is an accepted way to try to throw out elected officials who displease us. It’s called a recall, and it doesn’t involve the governor picking and choosing whom he wishes to punish.

In a Washington Post article, Del. David Reid, D–Loudoun, said that, since the proposal, his constituents have been inundating him with opinions about Youngkin’s action. He says 99 percent of those who volunteered their opinions opposed it.

Stephen Farnsworth, University of Mary Washington professor and astute observer of state politics, said in the same article, “To pick and choose which school boards and which elected officials you want to punish by shorting their terms, that’s … fundamentally a violation of the way this process works.”

It’s possible that Gov. Youngkin knew this bill would die in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Maybe he just wanted to earn some more points with his base throughout the state.

Whether the governor really wanted to flout precedent and the constitution, or whether he was playing a political game, this is not the way government is supposed to work.

It reflects badly on our chief executive that he doesn’t seem to understand that.

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