The Virginia Senate on Thursday rejected all but one of Gov. Glenn Youngkin's nominees to the state parole board, a move the chamber's Democratic majority said was partly in retaliation for House Republicans' earlier defeat of appointments to other government boards.
“I think that the House needs to be taught a lesson,” Democratic Sen. Adam Ebbin said during an unusually heated debate.
The move marked sharp escalation in the long-simmering fight over appointments during this year's session of the divided General Assembly.
On a party-line vote, the chamber defeated a joint resolution approving four of the five parole board members and one of Youngkin's appointees to the Safety and Health Codes Board, which oversees occupational safety and health standards.
Republican senators expressed outrage.
Sen. Mark Obenshain said it would derail the consideration of parole grants, which are already limited in Virginia.
“This is cutting off your nose to spite your face,” he said.
Sen. Steve Newman said it sets a “whole new low precedent for this body.”
Thursday's defeat of the nominees came about a month after the House voted down 11 of former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s appointees to various boards and commissions, a move that outraged Democrats. House Republicans said at the time that the decision had been made in concert with the Youngkin administration in retaliation for the Senate's earlier defeat of a Youngkin Cabinet nominee, former U.S. EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Ebbin said Thursday's move was also intended to protect "the integrity of this chamber and our bicameral appointments process.”
He said Senate Democrats had attempted to defuse the situation by meeting with Youngkin’s counsel, Richard Cullen, to discuss the Northam appointees who were ditched in February. Among them were several education board members, including one who was a Franklin County educator who had been named the 2021 Virginia Teacher of the Year.
After the meeting, Ebbin and other members of Senate Democratic leadership sent the governor a letter, asking that the 11 Northam appointees be restored.
“Unfortunately, unless you reappoint all eleven of these public servants there will be tremendous pressure to apply this precedent in turn to future Youngkin appointees,” the letter said.
Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw also noted Thursday that House Republicans had allowed the appointment of Angela Navarro, a member of the powerful State Corporation Commission, to expire.
“Don’t come to me crying about this when it was one group, and not on this side, that chose to escalate this war — and I mean escalate it,” he said.
Youngkin said in a statement that the move was “shocking" and he accused Democrats of covering up what he called a “scandal of their own creation.”
The parole board was mired in controversy during the Northam administration, beginning after it engaged in an accelerated and sometimes chaotic release of inmates at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Those inmate releases led to investigations by the state's watchdog agency, which found violations in how the cases were handled. But the Northam administration characterized the watchdog's work as biased and largely rejected calls for reforms.
Attorney General Jason Miyares announced on the day he was sworn into office that he had opened an investigation into the board's actions.
“The Democrat controlled parole board broke the law, put criminals ahead of victims, and tried to cover it all up. We will reform the parole board, expose those conspiring to hide this from public view, and stand up for victims rights," Youngkin said Thursday.
The governor appointed the five new members to the parole board on the day he was sworn in, dismissing every member who served during the Northam administration.
The members who were rejected Thursday were: Tracy Banks, Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, Charles Partin and Carmen Williams. The board chairman, Chadwick Dotson, was not impacted by the vote. He had already been confirmed.
The Associated Press left a message for Dotson on Thursday seeking comment.