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Just what are the limits of executive authority in Virginia?

FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a news conference Nov. 8, 2023 in Richmond, Va.
Jay Paul
FR170113 AP
FILE - Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a news conference Nov. 8, 2023 in Richmond, Va.

Critics of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin say he has repeatedly overstepped his authority by taking executive action without consulting the General Assembly.

Don't California my Virginia. That was the platform Republicans ran on last year, and now the governor is following through by ditching California emission standards, even though Democrats who control the General Assembly don't agree. Former Republican Governor Jim Gilmore disagrees with those who say Youngkin is exceeding his authority.

"The Attorney General gave a very reasoned opinion that made it clear that the governor had proper authority," Gilmore says. "So, I think the question is not is the governor overstepping his bounds as a matter of policy. The question is, is he following the law? And I think he is."

When Tim Kaine was governor, he issued an executive order recognizing gay rights for state employees. Republican Attorney General Bob McDonnell responded by saying Kaine exceeded his authority, but Chief of Staff Bill Leighty says the administration did not change course.

“We just continued on enforcing it and basically dared someone to take us to court over it, and [they] never did,” Leighty says.

“So, what does that say about the limits of executive authority in Virginia,” asks reporter Michael Pope.

“Well, I think governors are constantly testing their executive authority," Leighty responds. "And, of course, it is [a] much more relevant issue of just how much authority a governor has when there's a contentious relationship with the General Assembly as is the case now."

Members of the General Assembly are also clashing with the governor about whether Virginia should be part of two multistate groups – one to combat climate change and another to update voter information.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.