youngkin
Glenn Youngkin. Courtesy of Appalachian School of Law.

Every year begins with questions. Here are 22 of them for 2022.

  1. What will Glenn Youngkin do as governor? He managed to get elected despite saying very little about policy beyond a few headline items. He won’t be able to get away with that much longer. He’ll be luckier than many incoming governors: He’ll take office with a state treasury overflowing with cash.
  2. What will the General Assembly do? OK, that’s a broad question. We have a brand new political dynamic in Richmond, with a Republican majority restored to power in the House of Delegates – although Democrats still hold a 21-19 margin in the state Senate. What bills can Republicans pass in the House that will get through a Senate where Democrats still control all the chairmanships? That’s the big question looming over the upcoming General Assembly session. Now for a few more specific ones:
  3. What will happen with marijuana legalization? The Democratic legislature last year legalized possession but Virginia still hasn’t set up the full framework for a legalized retail market. Furthermore, Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas about how that should be done. Democrats wanted to emphasize “social equity” by giving preference to those convicted of marijuana offenses. The Republicans who are OK with legalization tend to be of a more libertarian mindset, which also means they think the free market should be left alone to do its thing. Those two views could not be more diametrically opposed.
  4. Which localities will ban retail cannabis stores? One provision of the law passed last year gives localities one shot – and one shot only – at banning retail stores. If localities don’t hold a referendum in 2022 to ban weed stores, those localities are presumed open for business. (Assuming, of course, that a license is issued for someone in that locality. Assuming that’s how the law even works after Republicans get through with it.) Don’t assume that conservative localities will automatically vote down pot stores. South Dakota is pretty darned conservative and it voted in favor of legal cannabis.
  5. Will the General Assembly pass a constitutional amendment to address school disparity? Probably not, simply because it never has before. Last year, state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, managed to get the measure through the state Senate – a massive surprise – only to have it strangled in committee by Democrats, many from Northern Virginia. The Senate remains the same but now the House is under new management. Will this be the year? Or will Republicans get cold feet about the potential cost (even if the localities that would benefit most are rural, Republican ones)?
  6. Will the General Assembly do something about school construction? This has been another issue that Stanley has valiantly pushed in recent years, only to see the measure killed. Now, though, there seems a growing consensus that the state does need to do something to help less affluent localities pay for the enormous costs of school modernization. In his outgoing budget, Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed $500 million. Will we see that amount stay intact, get whittled down, or increased?
  7. What will Jason Miyares do as attorney general? He’s vowed to investigate the way Loudoun County schools have handled sexual assault cases. What else? Modern attorneys general have emerged as powerful figures in ways their predecessors weren’t. Democrat Mark Herring spent a lot of time suing a Republican president. Will Miyares be running off to the courthouse to sue a Democratic one?
  8. Will the Mountain Valley Pipeline get completed? The natural gas pipeline is mostly done, but still faces lots of regulatory hurdles. Yogi Berra said “It ain’t over till it’s over.” Well, the pipeline isn’t done until it’s done.
  9. How many people will get vaccinated? We know that right now 77.1% of Virginians have been vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s a lot, but not the figure scientists say we need to hit to truly get this pandemic under control. Furthermore, there are a lot of geographic disparities, although they’re not purely rural and urban. There are plenty of rural localities – such as on the Northern Neck – with high vaccination rates. The problem areas are in Southwest Virginia. That’s also where the highest infection rates usually are. Will any of that change? Does the Omicron variant signal the beginning of the end — a more infectious but perhaps milder strain of the virus? Or will we just have to accept COVID as the new normal?
  10. Who will win the midterms? Every member of the U.S. House of Representatives will be up for reelection this year and they’ll be running under new district lines.
  11. Will the Tobacco Commission territory be expanded? Some think it should be as a way to help address the economic distress of certain localities that don’t fall under the commission’s footprint. Others are adamantly opposed to this. They point out that the commission was set up with funds from the master settlement with the tobacco companies in the 1990s, with that money expressly dedicated to building a new economy in tobacco-growing regions. To change the commission’s footprint is to break faith. We’ve heard these rumblings before; will this be the year they finally go beyond that?
  12. Will the Tobacco Commission’s Talent Attraction Program expand? To address population losses, the commission started a program in 2019 to pay off student loans for college graduates who agreed to move to commission territory and fill certain high-demand jobs that otherwise weren’t getting filled. This is a much more targeted approach than some communities have taken where they will offer what amounts to a move-in bonus for almost anyone. The program is small – so far it’s taken in about 350 people – but some legislators are thrilled by its prospects. State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, called it “the most innovative idea I’ve heard in 20 years.” Will the rest of the General Assembly agree? And will it pony up more money to expand this program?
  13. How will the new football coaches at Virginia Tech and Virginia do? This isn’t just a matter of X’s and O’s, it’s a matter of $$$. Big-time college football is an economic force. A study in 2015 found that Tech football generated $61.9 million in economic impact. Given inflation, today that would be about $81 million. If Brent Pry manages to take the Hokies to new levels on the field, he’ll help generate more dollars out in the community.
  14. Will Alden succeed in acquiring most of Virginia’s daily newspapers? Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with a reputation for buying newspapers and then gutting them, has made a bid for Lee Enterprises, whose Virginia properties include the dailies in Bristol, Charlottesville, Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Lynchburg, Martinsville, Richmond and Roanoke plus many weeklies and semi-weeklies such as the ones in Rocky Mount and Wytheville. Alden already owns the papers in Norfolk and Newport News. If successful in its bid by Lee, it would own all but a handful of dailies in Virginia, and all the major ones. Is that a good idea, even if Alden didn’t have such a rapacious reputation? (The correct answer there is “no.”) If you think it’s important to have journalists bird-dogging your local governing body, the planning commission, the school board and all the rest, you should be rooting for Lee to be able to withstand Alden’s takeover bid.
  15. Will we get another dark sky park? Virginia now has five such parks that have been certified by the International Dark-Sky Association as dark enough to see certain stars: Staunton River State Park, James River State Park, Natural Bridge State Park, Rappahannock County Park and Sky Meadows. At least one more – Douthat State Park on the Alleghany-Bath line – would like to join that list. Will it?
  16. Will Virginia get its first on-shore wind farm? Apex Clean Energy has proposed one north of Eagle Rock in Botetourt County but it has yet to happen. Will it?
  17. How much more solar energy will we get? Southside has become a hotspot for solar farms, although not everyone is happy about that. The Clean Economy Act is driving some of this; the marketplace is driving the rest. How many more proposals will we see in 2022? And how many of those will actually happen?
  18. Where will the Afghan refugees at Fort Pickett get resettled? Some 7,500 evacuees wound up at the military base in Nottoway County. The resettlement process is slow. Where will they wind up? And will any localities in Southside make the case that the Afghans should stay there? They should. Counties that have been losing population could easily turn those demographic trends around just like that.
  19. Who will get broadband this year? The federal infrastructure law will speed up the extension of broadband internet into rural America. In Virginia, Northam says this will mean universal coverage by 2024, four years ahead of schedule. That also means a lot of people this year will get broadband who previously haven’t had it – including, perhaps, me.
  20. What will happen once Bristol’s casino opens? Hard Rock is planning to open a temporary facility by mid-2022, making it the first casino in the state. What changes, if any, will we see out of that?
  21. Will we see more armadillos in Virginia? Yes, Virginia, we have armadillos. At least random ones waddling through – most recently one captured on a trailcam in Wise County in September. The armor-plated critters are already established in North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Will this be the year some move into Virginia and start having little armadillos? Nancy Moncrief at the Virginia Museum of Natural History says scientists believe that armadillos could probably survive as far north as Pennsylvania, so it’s entirely possible that someday we’ll be able to say Virginia Is For Armadillos.
  22. What will happen that we don’t know to ask about yet? Something will, right? It always does.

Dwayne Yancey

Yancey is editor of Cardinal News. His opinions are his own. You can reach him at dwayne@cardinalnews.org.