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Video: Virginia House, Senate Democrats Condemn Governor Youngkin’s “Totalitarian” Attacks on the Virginia Community College System Board

"Dedicated state employees were given a deadline of tomorrow to either give Governor Youngkin what he wants or resign."

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See below for a press release and video of this morning’s press call, as Virginia House and Senate Democrats ripped Governor Youngkin’s “hyper-partisan attacks on the Virginia education governing boards.” Legislators participating in the call were Sen. Mamie Locke, Sen. Adam Ebbin, Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, Sen. Scott Surovell, Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, and Del. Sally Hudson.

Virginia House, Senate Democrats Condemn Governor Youngkin’s Totalitarian Takeover

RICHMOND, Va.: Today in a press conference, Virginia House and Senate Democrats demand Governor Glenn Youngkin cease his hyper-partisan attacks on Virginia’s independent Boards and Commissions following his most recent insistence on politicizing community colleges.

On June 17, 2022, Governor Youngkin sent a letter to the Virginia Community Colleges System Board demanding their resignations by June 30, 2022 if they do not include him in the process of choosing a new Chancellor.

The process has been embroiled in controversy, as so many of the Governor’s appointments have been–from cruel tweets to support for the January 6th insurrection, many of his hiring choices have been questionable at best and horrific at worst.

Senate Caucus Chair Mamie Locke said: “Governor Youngkin has set his sights on one more aspect of public education to dismantle: Virginia’s community colleges. Dedicated state employees were given a deadline of tomorrow to either give Governor Youngkin what he wants or resign. His pattern of disrespect and inappropriate behavior toward the institutions of the Commonwealth is nothing short of a political takeover of apolitical government operations. Virginia House and Senate Democrats promise consequences if he continues these aggressions.”

Senate Privileges and Elections Committee Chair Adam Ebbin said: “I am appalled that Governor Youngkin asked for the resignation of the Virginia Community College System Board if they are not willing to appease his political whims. The Commonwealth is not the Carlyle Group–the Governor cannot terminate dedicated public servants based solely on their political leanings or perceived non-allegiance. If the Governor continues this conduct, not only with the VCCS but with all independent agencies, Virginia Democrats will respond in kind.”

Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg said: “As a teacher and a parent, I want my children to be able to receive the best education possible–which in Virginia is currently under threat. Governor Youngkin’s partisan strong-arming of the VCCS is a shameful overreach to seize control of Virginia’s public education systems. In its 55 years, the VCCS has successfully helped prepare hundreds of thousands of Virginians for success–training skilled workers and helping others achieve further education. The strength of Virginia’s schools is reflected in the strength of our economy, and as the #1 state for business with the #4 best schools in the nation, politicizing a well-run, independent institution is simply reckless.”

Senate K-12 Education Subcommittee Chair Ghazala Hashmi said: “I taught for nearly two decades at Reynolds Community College in Richmond, and every day I worked with students, faculty, and administrators who understood the values and benefits of our resilient and community-supporting institutions within the Virginia Community College System. I am increasingly distressed about Governor Youngkin’s executive overreach: his direct involvement in the hiring of the new Chancellor will likely have decades-long impacts on Virginia’s community colleges. These actions, along with Virginia Republicans’ persistent attacks on public education, and their signals indicating a desire to limit cherished academic freedoms in our colleges and universities, will irreparably harm the next generation of Virginians and scar the autonomy higher education must have.”

Delegate Sally Hudson said: “Our community colleges are the engine of our workforce and the bridge to lifelong learning for hundreds of thousands of Virginians. And they’re called community colleges for a reason – they serve diverse communities in every corner of the Commonwealth and they each have different needs. Our students and employers are counting on leadership that understands those needs who can build reliable pipelines to quality jobs.”

Senate Caucus Vice-Chair Scott Surovell said: “Governor Youngkin is once again displaying that he doesn’t understand the difference between being a Governor and a CEO.  Virginia has independent Boards and Commissions to create a firewall between the Governor and our institutions to minimize the impact of politics.  Instead of allowing the Community College Board to run its own hiring process, the Governor is trying to direct it.  But this should come as no surprise, as the Governor has taken an inordinately long time to complete hiring in his own administration by micromanaging the process and has already seen several high profile resignations of his own hires.  Governor Youngkin needs to recognize that the General Assembly is an equal branch of government, independent boards are independent, and public employees are not political appointees–Virginia does not bend to his threats and strong-arming.”

BACKGROUND:

  • Hiring of a new Chancellor of Virginia’s Community Colleges: Timeline
    • August 3, 2021: Former Chancellor Glenn DuBois announces retirement
    • March 7, 2022: Gov. Youngkin demands to be involved in choosing of new Chancellor
      • Community Colleges Board Chair NL Bishop says the hiring process will remain “professional and confidential” as is the usual hiring method for state employees–as opposed to a political appointment
      • Per code, the only role a Governor can play in the employment of a Chancellor is their removal due to “malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, misconduct, neglect of duty, absenteeism, conflict of interests, failure to carry out the policies of the Commonwealth” – NOT due to political differences. Only the Community College Board can fire the Chancellor
    • March 11, 2022: Anne Holton removes herself from consideration for Chancellor, concerned about the optics of a political fight over what should be an apolitical position
    • March 17, 2022: Russell Kavalhuna is hired as the next Chancellor, despite Governor Youngkin’s demand for input
    • Mid-May, 2022: Kavalhuna meets with Gov. Youngkin
    • June 13, 2022: Kavalhuna backs out of accepting the job of Chancellor
    • June 13, 2022: VCCS announces renewed Chancellor search
    • June 17, 2022: Gov. Youngkin sends letter to the Board as they restart the search for a new Chancellor:
      • “Our team is excited and eager to work with you to find this exceptional leader.”
      • “If for any reason you feel like you cannot commit to this mission, I will accept your resignation by June 30th with gratitude for your service.”
  • Community colleges fight as part of Gov. Youngkin’s takeover of public schools
    • In the 2023-2024 Budget:
      • Governor amendment promoted lab schools in both public and private colleges, siphoning public funds associated with per-pupil funding toward private institutions
      • House budget removed $5 million from the G3 program, which has helped increase community college enrollment during and following the pandemic
    • February interim report and May full report slams the Board of Education on every level
      • Rescission of all education initiatives promoting equity and inclusion
      • Misrepresenting the success of the Board of Education, which has brought Virginia’s rank to fourth-best schools in the nation
    • Establishment of the teacher tip line, sowing distrust between educators and families
  • Gov. Youngkin’s track record on hiring incompetent people:
    • Fired/resigned:
      • LGBTQ+ Advisory Board Member Casey Flores criticized after crude tweets
      • Phil Whittmer resigned from his post as the chief of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency after less than a month on the job without explanation
        • Whittmer’s replacement, Jon Ozovek, resigned in mid-February 2022
        • A third VITA chief, Demetrias Rodgers, resigned effective May 2022
      • Would-be DMV Commissioner Peter Lacy abruptly backed out of his agreement to lead the agency following conversations with Youngkin and Sec. Miller
      • Youngkin’s Chief Attorney General Monique Miles resigned after one month, after it became known she supported the January 6th riots and doubted the legitimacy of the 2020 election results
      • Elections Commissioner Chris Piper was notified of his termination, despite willingness to continue in the role and earning bipartisan praise for his work
      • DHRM Director Emily Elliott retired; per the RTD, “the timing of Elliott’s departure is awkward” given Gov. Youngkin’s push to overhaul the Department and the transition to return to in-person work
      • DMAS director Karen Kimsey stepped down ahead of the administration determining Medicaid benefits for nearly 2 million Virginians following the end of the federal public health emergency
      • Not confirmed:
      • Sec. of Natural Resources appointee Andrew Wheeler not confirmed, after a career as a coal lobbyist and actively dismantling environmental protections at Trump’s EPA
      • Hyper-partisan and underqualified Parole Board appointments blocked by Senate Democrats: Hank Partin, Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, Cheryl Nici-O’Connell and Carmen Williams of Chesterfield
    • Currently employed:
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