The New Old Dominion

Will the new Old Dominion look a lot like the old Old Dominion? A local politician weighs in.

Over several days of protest in the summer of 2020, activists disfigured — and then toppled — this statute of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, which stood on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. It was a moment of reckoning in the former capital of the rebellious South, as citizens called for recognition and redress of a long history of slavery and racism. Changes would come: under Democratic control, the state expanded voter access, enfranchised many ex-felons and strengthened gun laws. But our guest today is worried about pushback against democratic progress from the old Old Dominion; and a new governor, taking his lead from other states like Texas and Florida, is questioning what educators are teaching in public schools.

Photograph by Kim Kelley-Wagner via

Virginia recently adopted progressive new voting measures championed by Democrats. Then the people rewarded Republicans, putting the levers of state government back in GOP hands. Now a new chief executive, Gov. Glenn Youngkin, is railing against the discussion of systemic racism in public schools and rolling back covid restrictions.

Last year’s comeback for the GOP in Virginia suggests the state remains a political puzzle.

Illustration via

Still, Del. Sally Hudson is focused on the positive. She says increased demographic diversity in the state legislature means Virginians are bringing experiences from all walks of life to the democratic process. This week on the show, Hudson tells Will and Siva how she is working across the aisle to weaken corporate influence in politics and pursue improvements to a redistricting system approved by referendum in November 2020. A labor economist by training, Hudson says she looks at every bill and asks, “Who is getting the short end of the stick?” Too often, she concludes, state law is benefiting special interests with deep pockets, like the biggest electric player in the commonwealth: Dominion Energy.

About our guest

Sally Hudson represents Charlottesville and Albemarle County in the Virginia House of Delegates. She is also an economist and assistant professor in the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Hudson was part of a blue wave in Virginia politics in 2019, becoming the first woman to serve our hometown in the statehouse. Hudson teaches data analysis and methods courses, and she works with nonprofits and philanthropists to improve the delivery of public services. Follow her on Twitter @SallyLHudson.

This episode was released on Feb. 16, 2022.

What we’re reading

By our guest

Hudson is a big proponent of ranked-choice voting. Among her first acts in office was to champion a bill that eventually amended the Code of Virginia allowing localities to pilot the system. Arlington has led the way.

Her published research has focused on the effects of extra scholarship funding for college students, showing that it boosted enrollment and success, especially among nonwhite and first-generation attendees.

Together with Republican Del. R. Lee Ware of Powhatan County and others, Hudson has sponsored a bill in the current legislative session that would ban political contributions from public utilities.

From around the web

Gov. Youngkin addresses parents at a roundtable discussion held at a grocery store in Alexandria, Va., on Feb. 3. Supporters cheered at his inaugural address when he said he would empower families to shape their schools’ curricula. But in this deep purple state many remain skeptical about what that really means.

Photograph by Eli Wilson via

A political novice, Glenn Youngkin was relatively unknown a couple of years ago, having made his $440 million as a private equity executive with the Carlyle Group. That fortune — plus a careful mix moderate views and Trumpist echoes — helped get him elected in a state that recently had been leaning Democratic. Read this reflection on Youngkin and his victory, in the New York Times.

On his first day in office, Youngkin issued 11 executive orders, including directives banning mask mandates and “critical race theory” in public schools.

Such orders rest on shaky legal ground. Nevertheless, Virginia’s interest in mask mandates has waned along with covid cases in recent weeks, and the legislature has sent the governor a bill to end them. All but three Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, shown here under construction in 2018, near Cowen, W.Va., is more than 90 percent complete. It will shuttle natural gas across the Appalachian highlands into southwest Virginia.

Photograph by Malachi Jacobs via

Did Democrats lose in Virginia because they didn’t take parents seriously, as the controversial former mayor of Charlottesville has argued? Or, as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said, did the Democratic Party run a lackluster campaign that failed to fire up progressives?

Hudson supported the plan for a new bipartisan commission that was tasked last year with redistricting. And while the commission’s work blew up, voting maps created by the state Supreme Court received high ratings for fairness.

Dominion isn’t the only powerful player in the energy sector in Virginia. Natural gas companies have been trying to build major pipelines for years. They continue to face resistance from activists and regulatory hurdles.

Dominion Energy’s headquarters in downtown Richmond. The utility has outsized influence in Virginia politics — through the millions it donates to candidates of both major parties .

Photograph by Daniel J. Macy via

Last month one GOP lawmaker told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that Youngkin would support a ban on political donations from utilities, if it reaches his desk. Dominion has come under scrutiny both for overcharging customers and poor maintenance of the electric grid — which was severely strained in recent snow storms.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

Heard on the show

We played you a short clip from Youngkin’s inaugural address on Jan. 15. Watch the rest of that speech from WUSA Channel 9 on YouTube.

Our theme music is the title track off the 2010 album Neogrotesque, by the Montreal band Tortue Super Sonic.

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