RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Senate Democrats rejected three of Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s appointees, including the state health commissioner, a parole board member and a Board of Education member backed by the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The Virginia Senate approved resolutions confirming several Youngkin nominees Tuesday — the legislative session’s midway point — but the Democratic majority removed three of the Republican governor’s picks they opposed.
Democrats in the Virginia Senate blocked the appointments of Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Colin Greene, parole board member Steven Buck and education board member Suparna Dutta.
Youngkin, who had many of his initial parole board picks and nominee for Virginia’s secretary of natural resources, Andrew Wheeler, blocked by Senate Democrats last year, called the move “shameful.”
“In an appalling show of partisanship, today Senate Democrats attacked the integrity of three highly qualified members of my administration,” Gov. Youngkin said in a statement Tuesday.
The Republican-controlled House of Delegates will vote on the governor’s nominees and could push for Greene, Buck and Dutta to be confirmed. But Senate Democrats appear poised to block any legislative maneuvers to do so from House Republicans.
Dr. Greene was reprimanded by the Virginia Board of Health and faced criticism following a Washington Post report in which he said there was no “compelling” evidence of racism’s impact on infant and maternal mortality rates and labeled gun violence a “Democratic talking point.”
A Virginia Department of Health spokesperson directed 8News to the governor’s office when reached for comment Wednesday. In his statement, Youngkin said Greene “successfully stewarded the Commonwealth out of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Senate Democrats questioned Dutta’s stance on history and experience in education. Dutta co-founded Coalition for TJ, a group that opposed and sued over admission policy changes made by Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a prestigious and highly selective magnet school.
A judge ruled the admissions policy, which removed a standardized test requirement after the school faced backlash over a lack of diversity, discriminated against Asian American students. The decision is being appealed, but Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares is investigating the policy changes.
Without mentioning Dutta by name, State Sen. Ghazala F. Hashmi (D-Chesterfield) called her “unqualified” for her role on the education board for a lack of work in the field of public education.
State Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Bedford) asked Sen. Hashmi whether he thought the other board members with no public education background should also be removed. Hashmi responded that Dutta’s remarks on racism, slavery and American history also raised concerns.
“Most recently in the discussions on standards of learning, this particular board member indicated that racism was not a factor in American history, that the Constitution of the United States did not have any indications of racism and slavery within the document,” she said. “We know that that is not correct.”
Sen. Newman said Dutta has brought an important perspective to the board, including one of an immigrant, parent and expert on computer and data science. He also disputed claims about Dutta’s stance on history, calling them inaccurate.
“We know what she’s going to do on the school board because she’s been there,” Newman said of Dutta. “She’s been there as a strong advocate for all students.”
Senate Democrats said Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a conservative political activist and the wife of Justice Thomas, pushed for Dutta’s confirmation before the vote.
“Ms. Dutta is being viciously attacked by leftist thugs who hate diverse voices, unless they control them,” Thomas wrote in the email to state senators. “She has wonderful and important credentials for serving on the Board of Education.”
The education board did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment from Dutta on the vote to remove her from the panel.
Buck, a former prosecutor, was among a group of new parole board members appointed last April after Youngkin’s first picks were blocked by Senate Democrats last year.
Democrats pointed to Buck’s votes while on the parole board, noting Tuesday that he has granted parole in just seven cases out of roughly 1,500. 8News called and left a message with the Virginia Parole Board on Wednesday but Buck has yet to respond.