As this session continues to end with a rather boring conclusion, Republicans should be keen to find small opportunities to focus on what a 2023 agenda might look like.
If you’re a red meat conservative, aside from the disappearance of face masks, this year’s General Assembly session was predictably boring.
That’s not to say Republicans in the General Assembly haven’t done their one-on-one work. President Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) plays a masterful hand at this rate, doing the most with what he can. After all, the mask mandates are gone because House Republicans and Senate Republicans shrewdly solicited and engaged the help of one state senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) — one of many Democrats center-left quickly realizing that the left-progressive is a losing proposition in 2022 and 2023.
One of the most frustrating things about sausage making is that when Democrats are in power, they make leaps and bounds. Yet when Republicans regain the reins of power, most of what we do is cement the gains made by the political left. The reason why isn’t too hard to decipher. The institutions – unelected but wielding immense power – that benefit from the rigging of the law want the changes to stay and will cry bloody murder if you try to return to the status quo.
Herein lies the great difficulty for conservatives in Virginia.
(1) Conservatives do not control institutions; progressives do. The media, academia, education, entertainment and bureaucracy are all firmly in the hands of the political left. Churches – such as they are – are slipping into the hands of the political left as they continue to secularize to be made acceptable (and therefore powerless). Only the military, law enforcement and first responders – the security apparatus – remain bulwarks against the left – the only reason being that when they fail there are concrete consequences (someone dies, someone is injured, someone is invaded).
It’s O’Sullivan’s Law through and through: any organization or company that isn’t expressly right-wing will become left-wing over time.
(2) Conservatives need the Virginia Senate as well as the House of Delegates and the Governor’s Office to come to their senses – and even then do the Conservatives have a majority in our own party let alone in Virginia?
Youngkin hasn’t exactly uncovered a new reckoning, but it has been handed to the campaign, with President Joe Biden prematurely withdrawing from Afghanistan, inflation and gas prices reaching Carteresque levels of incompetence, and McAuliffe shaking up the question of whether bureaucrats (those slimy institutions again) or parents had the exclusive right to educate our children. Even with all those missteps, it was just enough to beat McAuliffe by about 60,000 votes.
In a state of 8.6 million souls.
Institutions – not demography – as destiny
In short, the Democrats snatched victory from the jaws of defeat — and thank goodness they did. The question now remains whether or not Republicans are doing the blocking and grassroots action needed to change the dynamic of (1) – bring institutions back to their senses.
Case in point? Education reform.
What started as student vouchers quickly turned into charter schoolswhich in turn quickly morphed into what former Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling aptly called “feeder schools— namely charter schools sponsored by Virginia colleges and universities.
Also take a closer look at critical race theory in public education. The problem here is not so much that we can wave a magic wand and erase it from the curriculum, but that the institution itself – administrators, bureaucrats and teachers – are all invested in its teaching, no matter what. the parents.
The fact that Virginia’s so-called pro-life leaders have defeated all pro-life bills except a 20-week settlement should horrify evangelical and Catholic conservatives. Not only did they shoot down versions of Texas’ six-week regulatory ban, but when did they go for the less motivating option? They couldn’t even get this pass.
State Senator Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) has discovered that grievance politics is so much more effective than argument. Every action of the House GOP and Senate GOP at this rate is racism. Simple, pure, 80s proof racism. The argument isn’t even being made in good faith, not that it has to be so long as it continues to be effective in curbing Republican efforts to trim the hedges erected by the Democratic majority under Ralph Northam ( who somehow remains immune to the accusation of racism).
So why does it seem like Republicans just aren’t making progress? Having a majority in both houses of the General Assembly is important, of course…but remembering that there is a silent fourth branch of government that remains unelected and fully invested in by progressives who see government as a force for change (sic) in the world This is where the Republicans miss the mark – precisely because we do not do see government as a force for change, but simply as a mechanism.
Let’s get serious about good students, Republicans
If there’s an institution ripe for a bit of Schumpeterian creative destruction, it’s the failing institution of Virginia’s public education system. It’s the one “big idea” Youngkin flirted with during his gubernatorial campaign, and it’s the one institution that unites the entire Republican coalition.
The Democrats will pretend to be in a thousand fears about what diversity of thought in fact looks like. Don’t worry about the whip and buggy industry. There are thousands of homeschooling co-ops that would love to operate in the basement of the Baptist church and benefit from their state bond. There are thousands of Catholic students who would like to benefit from their state bond. There are thousands of students in the failing public schools of Richmond and Petersburg who deserve better than a cookie-cutter education.
A small step that could help break the deadlock? Repeal Virginia’s Blaine Amendment.
The Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their aim was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools. For decades, opponents of educational choice have used the Blaine Amendments — found in 37 state constitutions — as blunt weapons to obstruct and invalidate educational choice programs.
That wouldn’t be a heavyweight for Virginia lawmakers. In fact, the Institute for Justice has a helpful how-to guide for anyone seriously interested in moving forward on real school choice rather than a fig leaf.
Republicans need to focus on the real task and the challenges ahead. Swapping politicians is just the first opening. Take back institutions (that’s right, dismantle the legacy of Jim Crow et al.) and expose them to genuine diversity of thought and ideals of human flourishing?
Even Senator Lucas can’t say no to that.
As this session continues to wind down toward a rather boring conclusion, Republicans should be keen to find small opportunities to focus on what a 2023 agenda might look like to restore the spirit of the possible. Yes, it will involve a real contract with Virginia which will have to be more than just small but achievable wins.
Educational reform is close to the heart of every Virginian.