SCHAPIRO: Marketing or mismarketing of the Virginia brand | Editorial


Jeff Schapiro


Republican Glenn Youngkin ran and won the governorship, aware that Virginia is more than a bluish state with competing characteristics: that it is largely suburban but retains its rural roots. That it is from the South but with a national vocation. That his past, if not quite brilliant, is not without brilliance. Long exclusive, often in the worst sense of the term, it struggles to become inclusive. That its economy, previously dominated by agriculture and manufacturing, now relies heavily on intelligence.

More than Virginia’s identity, these tangible and intangible assets constitute Virginia’s brand. But is that mark – a constant that makes an enduring statement, requiring occasional tweaks to remain effective – in jeopardy?

Unlike a consumer product that gets rid of a disturbing name or image to protect its market share – think: Uncle Ben’s rice and Aunt Jemima’s syrup, both of which relied on stereotypes of Jim Crow on blacks – Virginia seems to adopt symbols which could diminish its competitiveness .

Most notably, there is Youngkin’s war on enlightenment.

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Without the nerve of Donald Trump or the grumbling of Ron DeSantis, Youngkin has vowed to erase certain teachings about race from Virginia public schools. Youngkin said as a candidate — and repeats as governor — programs should be purged of allegedly controversial topics. This includes color and culture, but Youngkin insists he’s committed to students learning about good and evil, though it’s never really defined either.

It’s the us versus them way that Youngkin pressures educators to rewrite lesson plans that proves divisive, threatening to restore an outdated notion of Virginia that — due to a long streak of Democratic victories, coupled with the revulsion over the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police – was just beginning to be revived.

A state synonymous for 400 years with slavery and segregation, and the laws and occasional violence employed by whites to enforce both, cannot, in the four years of one or two non-renewable governorships, consider itself as rebuilt on nagging issues of fairness – a banned word in the Youngkin administration’s lexicon – still playing out in the economy, schools, courts and on the streets.

Moreover, Youngkin’s use of vigilantism — the e-mail tip line to report supposedly woke teachers — to root out this source of white rage will telegraph beyond Virginia’s borders that the state, in which 42% of residents are black, Asian and Hispanic, feels bad about itself.

Public polls in the first weeks of an administration barely three months old suggest a majority of voters disagree with Youngkin’s approach, that he accommodates the few at the expense of the greatest. number.

The Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University found that 63% believe students should learn about racism and its effects, and 59% oppose banning critical race theory, an academic concept not taught in Virginia but which is shorthand among conservatives for indoctrinating a captive audience. : impressionable children.

And Youngkin’s whistles with the teachers’ union and superintendents over his elimination of racism-laden teaching materials provided by the state Department of Education — rather than giving parents a veto over what their children are studying – threatens the collaboration between parents, students, educators and policy makers on which successful schools depend.

Additionally, that Youngkin, in his feud with the community college system over the selection of a new chancellor, signals that he wants greater control over Virginia’s historically independent public colleges and universities — longtime partners. businesses and magnets for economic growth – should be alarm bells that the preferred remedy for a perceived leftward drift on campus is a hard right-hand hammer wielded from the top down.

This has implications for the nuclear arms race which is the competition between states for new or expanded corporate investment and is arguably more about attracting talent – ​​white and non-white, heterosexual and LGBTQ – to a workplace that , due to the coronavirus pandemic, is now real and virtual.

Talent is migrating to Virginia, where — even though more people are moving than moving in — the majority of residents are non-natives. And not just because it’s in the immediate orbit of Washington, DC. This geographical accident fuels the state’s economy – one in three dollars can be attributed to federal largesse. The location also assures Virginia easy access to the venerable capital centers of the northeast and the new manufacturing centers of the south.

But attracting and retaining talent requires a welcoming social environment, reliable schools, an unparalleled quality of life and affordable prices, measured, in part, by predictable taxes. Virginia ranks 34th among states in tax burden, according to WalletHub.

Even Youngkin, whose tax-cut program sparked the ongoing House and Senate stalemate on spending, admits his proposal to temporarily suspend fuel taxes won’t save worried Virginians much money. of inflation. That he recognizes that this is a sure sign that Virginians are doing it, and that they understand that record gas prices are the result of circumstances beyond their control, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a declining production due to COVID-19 and rising demand attributed to job gains that have more people driving.

Another important factor in preserving the Virginia brand is the company the state keeps. That he is courting the Washington Commanders football team with a $350 million scheme for a taxpayer-subsidized stadium in Northern Virginia might have been a point of pride were it not for the club’s sordid image. , his controversial management and his tin ear. In other words: these are not people most of us would want in our neighborhood.

A U.S. House committee is investigating the NFL’s response to allegations of sexual harassment within the COs organization, focusing, among others, on majority owner Dan Snyder, who has long resisted the abandonment of the old team name, considered demeaning to Native Americans. The investigation is widening to include possible financial irregularities by the team, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

This Commanders’ romance, Virginia’s second since the 1990s, should be viewed with skepticism even as a business venture. Professional sports teams have been known to sever ties with communities, especially if a softer, publicly funded deal comes along. Richmond has a bitter taste for it with the COs planned plan to end its summer training camp in the city, which annually handed out a check to the team for $500,000 to train at a paid facility with $10 million in loans.

Fiscal discipline — under Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Republicans — is another hallmark of the Virginia brand.


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