Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks in Bristol at the Cardinal News Speaker Series. Photo Credit: Earl Neikirk/Neikirk Image.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks in Bristol at the Cardinal News Speaker Series in October 2022. Photo Credit: Earl Neikirk/Neikirk Image.

Every year begins with questions. Here are 23 of them for 2023.

  1. What will Gov. Glenn Youngkin do? The governor enters his second year and remains pretty popular, quite a feat for a Republican in a state that has been leaning Democratic. He signaled some of his priorities in his proposed amendments to the state budget last month – tax cuts, an overhaul in state workforce programs, and an acceleration of site development. But those are hardly the biggest questions surrounding Youngkin.
  1. Will Youngkin run for president? Ah, now that’s the big one, now isn’t it? Talk of Youngkin as a possible presidential candidate began to swirl even before he was inaugurated. His cross-country speaking schedule in 2022 did nothing to quiet that. It’s one thing, though, to be mentioned; it’s quite another to actually run. The closer we get to 2024, the more definitive Youngkin will have to be one way or another. One challenge he faces is that Virginia has its own midterm elections in November. Virginia Republicans would like him to concentrate on those. Another challenge is simply the amount of time it takes to run. Voters in some states sometimes look the other way when their governors run for president – but those governors tend to be in second or even third terms, not their second year on the job.
  2. What will the General Assembly do? Much like the first question about the governor, this is a question we can ask every year. The more interesting questions about the General Assembly are yet to come, though, so let’s get to them.
  3. Will the legislature restrict abortion? After the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out Roe v. Wade, Youngkin said he’d push for a ban on abortion after 15 weeks – because that’s what he thought he could get through a legislature where Republicans control the House but Democrats control the Senate. That Democratic margin is just one vote and one Democrat (Joe Morrissey of Richmond) is said to be open to some restrictions. What will Morrissey do?
  4. What will happen with marijuana legalization? In 2021, when Democrats controlled the General Assembly (and everything else in state government), Virginia legalized personal possession of marijuana. Or cannabis, as some prefer. Democrats set in motion a framework for creating a legal retail market and expected to come back in 2022 to finish that work. Funny thing happened – Republicans won the House in 2021 and Republicans were divided on what to do. Some don’t approve of legalization at all (sorry, too late for that now), while others of a more libertarian bent are OK with it but disagreed completely with Democrats on how that retail market should work. Democrats, viewing the world through a social justice lens, wanted to give preference to people who had been convicted of marijuana offenses. Republicans saw that as rewarding law-breaking. Anyway, nothing happened in 2022 so we now have a situation where weed is legal but the only market is the black market. There’s said to be a growing consensus among some Republicans that they need to do something to establish the rules for a retail market. We’ll see if that happens this year.
  5. Will the General Assembly pass a constitutional amendment to address school disparity? State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, has pushed this in the past. He didn’t last year for strategic reasons, he said. Will he bring it back? And if so, what will happen to it?
  6. Who will win the primaries? Before we can get to the General Assembly elections, we’ll first have nomination contests — in redrawn districts. The big one shaping up in this part of the state is between Dels. Wren Williams, R-Patrick County, and Marie March, R-Floyd County.
  7. Who will win the House of Delegates? All 100 seats are on the ballot in November. Republicans have had a 52-48 margin (currently down to 51-48 with the death of Del. Ronnie Campbell of Rockbridge County, but that’s a strongly Republican district so a special election will surely fill that with another Republican).
  8. Who will win the state Senate? All 40 seats are on the ballot in November. Democrats have had a 21-19 margin. That’s now 21-18 since Republican Jen Kiggans got elected to Congress. A special election to fill her seat will be Jan. 10, so things could go back to 21-19 – or could become 22-18 Democrats. In any case, all that could change after November’s elections in redrawn districts, but which way?
  9. Will the Mountain Valley Pipeline get completed? The pipeline that would transport natural gas from northwestern West Virginia to Chatham is mostly complete but has been held up by courts and regulators. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, tried to push through a bill that would greenlight the pipeline but that failed on a 47-47 Senate vote.
  10. Will the state’s ban on so-called skill games be upheld or struck down? The General Assembly banned the games at the behest of casinos, but a lawsuit by former NASCAR driver turned Emporia truck stop owner turned Republican state Senate candidate Hermie Sadler has resulted in an injunction that has kept the games operating. The catch: Before, they were taxed. Now that taxing authority has expired, so the games are proliferating in an unregulated fashion. That case won’t be heard until April or May, so they’ll remain legal until at least then. Here’s one reason I’m interested in these games: When taxed, they often disproportionately benefited rural areas.
  11. Who will be named the next director of the Tobacco Commission? The position has been vacant for about a year. For counties in Southwest and Southside that are covered by the commission, this is kind of a big deal.
  12. Who will be named the next community college chancellor? Glenn DuBois retired in 2022 and hasn’t been replaced. He almost was, but Youngkin wanted to be involved in the search. So far, the position is still vacant. Given the role that community colleges play in the economy, this is also kind of a big deal.
  13. Who will be named the next presidents at Ferrum College and Liberty University? David Johns abruptly resigned in November. Ferrum has named an interim president but set no timeline for a presidential search. Meanwhile, Liberty expects to have a new president in time for the 2023-24 academic year.
  14. Will something big land at the Southern Virginia MegaSite? The 3,528-acre site came achingly close in May 2022 to landing an 8,100-job Hyundai electric vehicle battery factory that went to Georgia instead. Will its time come this year?
  15. Will Virginia get its first on-shore wind farm? I ask this question every year and the answer is always “not this year.” The Rocky Forge wind farm was first proposed for a mountaintop north of Eagle Rock in Botetourt County in 2015 but so far hasn’t happened. If and when it does, it will be the state’s first.
  16. What will happen with Youngkin’s proposal for a small modular reactor in Southwest Virginia? Small modular reactors are small versions of conventional reactors. There are none in the United States – yet – but some under construction elsewhere. Youngkin wants to see one within 10 years and says Southwest Virginia would be an ideal spot. Even before Youngkin’s proposal, Dominion Energy was already planning to add SMRs – and seems to have a wider view of where they might go. One option: There’s space available at Dominion’s North Anna nuclear power station in Louisa County. Dominion also says they could be located at places where the utility is decommissioning coal-fired generators, which means Halifax County might potentially be a location. Dominion wants one in service by 2032 so don’t expect one to get built this year, but what paperwork might happen toward that goal?
  17. How will Danville’s temporary casino do? Caesars, having seen the success of the temporary casino in Bristol, wants to open a temporary facility in Danville by July while it works on building a permanent casino.
  18. Will the abortion clinic in Bristol stay open? The facility moved across the state line from Tennessee after Tennessee imposed restrictions following the fall of Roe v. Wade. Now there have been efforts to shut it down on the Virginia side. Most recently, the landlords have sued to break its lease, saying they didn’t realize it would perform abortions.
  19. What lab schools will we see proposed? Youngkin wants to see so-called “lab schools” across the state. By law, these special high schools must be tied to a college. Mountain Gateway Community College in Alleghany County has received one of the first three planning grants to create such a lab school, but we know other proposals are forthcoming.
  20. Will the hockey team in Wytheville really happen? The owner of several other minor league franchises says he wants to put a team in Wytheville to play in the Federal Prospects Hockey League. This is contingent on various renovations to the Apex Center in Wytheville, where the team would play. Wytheville seems an awfully small place for a pro team but when I looked at this in a previous column, I found other places of similar size where hockey has worked out.
  21. Will we see more armadillos in Virginia? The armor-plated critters are waddling north. Some have been sighted in Virginia, as far north as Roanoke, but so far no breeding population has been found. As with many other things, will this be the year?
  22. What will happen that we don’t know to ask about? Something will, right? It always does.
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Dwayne Yancey

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