RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Senate Democrats voted Tuesday to reject several appointees of GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, including the state health commissioner.
The chamber approved resolutions containing dozens of Youngkin appointees after the names of those to whom they objected — Health Commissioner Dr. Colin Greene, parole board member Steven Buck and education board member Suparna Dutta — were stripped out.
Another Youngkin appointee to the University of Virginia Board of Visitors, Bert Ellis, survived an attempted removal after two Democrats joined with Republicans to keep him.
The resolutions now move to the GOP-controlled House, which could attempt to restore the appointees, who have already been serving in their roles.
Youngkin said the senators were attacking the integrity of “three highly qualified members of my administration” in “an appalling show of partisanship.”
“Democrats are repeating loudly their clear beliefs: parents don’t matter, criminals first victims last, and petty politics above Virginia’s best interests. It’s shameful. Virginians deserve so much better,” Youngkin said in a statement.
Greene, the health commissioner, was reprimanded by the Board of Health last year for remarks in an interview with The Washington Post in which he called gun violence “a Democratic talking point” and questioned the role of structural racism in health outcomes, including maternal and infant mortality rates.
Youngkin previously expressed disappointment in those remarks and said they did not represent the view of his administration. They were the focus of much of Tuesday's debate, though Democratic Sen. Jennifer McClellan also said concerns about Greene also extend to his impact on health department staff.
“His leadership is having a chilling effect on the work that the Legislative Black Caucus has done to address racism as a public health crisis,” McClellan said.
Republican Sen. Steve Newman defended Greene as a “remarkable” leader with an impressive resume that included 30 years in the U.S. Army.
GOP Sen. Amanda Chase, who raised objections about Greene's refusal to embrace the use of the anti-parasitic drug Ivermectin for COVID-19, joined Democrats in voting to block him.
Maria Reppas, a health department spokesperson, referred a request for comment to the governor's office, which said Greene had ably led Virginia out of the coronavirus pandemic.
Buck, a former state and federal prosecutor, was nominated by Youngkin to the Virginia Parole Board in April.
Senate Democrats said they had reviewed parole board votes and found Buck voted to grant parole in only seven of the approximately 1,500 cases he’d heard so far.
That led members to be concerned that he apparently “doesn't believe” inmates deserve parole, Sen. Scott Surovell said.
There was no immediate response to an AP request for comment sent to Buck via the parole board's website.
Democrats voted to remove Dutta in part over what they said were concerns she was unqualified due to a lack of work history in education.
Dutta chaired a coalition called Educators for Youngkin during the governor’s 2021 campaign and spoke at his inauguration. She was a parent leader of the Coalition for TJ, an advocacy group that sued over a controversial new admissions policy at the highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County.
Newman defended Dutta as a successful woman of color with experience teaching others about IT software development.
Senate Democrats also reported receiving emails from Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, urging them to support Dutta.
In an emailed response to the Senate’s vote, Dutta wrote that she was honored to have been appointed to the board and thought she had succeeded in “challenging the status quo.”
“It is disappointing, however, that slander and blatant lies won the day today,” she wrote.
Ellis is a businessman and UVA graduate who lives in South Carolina, according to an appointment notice from the governor's office. He's also involved with The Jefferson Council, a conservative alumni group.
He was the subject of news coverage after, according to his own account, he said he was “prepared to use a small razor blade” to remove a sign with an obscenity from the door of a residence on the University of Virginia's esteemed Lawn.
“This single act of a man in his 60s going onto a college campus with a razor blade to remove something that he found offensive from the student's door — singly — is enough to deny this man a position on the Board of Visitors,” said Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds, who represents Charlottesville.
GOP Sen. Mark Obenshain spoke on Ellis' behalf, saying he stood down when asked to by two student ambassadors, a display Obenshain called “thoughtful and reasonable.”
Ellis didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Democrats Lynwood Lewis and Chap Petersen joined Republicans to block the attempt to remove him.
Also this session, lawmakers are expected to grapple with filling vacancies on the powerful State Corporation Commission. They failed to reach an agreement on one opening last year, and another commissioner has since resigned.
House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore said Tuesday that House members hope to start meeting with Senators soon to "start sharing names and trying to narrow that down.”
Surovell declined to comment on potential names.