Virginia's Gubernatorial Election Has Become a Referendum on Public Schools
Plus: The Facebook revelations that weren't, plans for the world's first commercial space station, and more....
One week from today, voters in Virginia will go to the polls to pick their next governor, and school choice has become the defining issue of the race—though perhaps not exactly in the way that libertarians would prefer.
Because Virginia law does not allow sitting governors to run for reelection, the two major-party candidates seeking to replace Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam are Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who was the state's governor from 2014 through 2018, and Republican Glenn Youngkin, the former CEO of The Carlisle Group, a venture capital firm. The race should have been a relatively easy one for McAuliffe in a state that's increasingly out of reach for Republicans: Virginia has elected only one Republican governor this century, and the GOP hasn't won a Senate race in the state since 2002 or a presidential race since 2004.
He may still prevail, but McAuliffe stepped in it during the final debate between the two candidates last month when he responded to a question about parent-led protests at school board meetings by saying "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."
That line has been getting heavy rotation in the campaign ads that have been hammering Virginia airwaves for weeks.
There are two ways to tell that the moment—and the ads it spawned—have significantly shifted the race. First, recent polls show that parents of school-age children are far more likely to support Youngkin.
Second, McAuliffe has had to break one of the cardinal rules of political campaigns—never, ever, add fuel to your opponent's attacks by acknowledging them—in order to respond directly with ads of his own arguing that Youngkin is somehow taking those words out of context:
— Brandon Jarvis (@Jaaavis) October 18, 2021
In fairness to McAuliffe, there is a small bit of missing context here. The protests in Fairfax County were organized by parents who objected to the county's high school including Toni Morrison's Beloved on a reading list for seniors. That's a Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, not a porno rag. Parents who don't want their teenage children reading the book can be free to object, of course, but banning books is always an extreme overreaction. In 2017, McAuliffe vetoed the so-called "Beloved Bill" that would have required Virginia schools to notify parents of "sexually explicit content" on students' reading lists.
But like all the most memorable political gaffes, McAuliffe's response to this controversy at the debate strikes a chord because it seems to perfectly sum up the candidate. McAuliffe is a longtime ally of the Clintons. Teachers unions love him. He opposes school choice despite having sent his own kids to private schools. You know the type—in fact, there's probably a few of them running your own local school board.
His sit-down-and-shut-up vibe also resonates in Virginia right now because the state's northern suburbs—a crucial bellwether for both state and national elections—are pretty much ground zero for Republican-led school board culture wars. In Loudoun County, tensions rose as parents besieged school board meetings to complain about the teaching of "critical race theory" and then boiled over when a transgender student was convicted of sexually assaulting another student in a school bathroom.
Youngkin's campaign has been promising to "save our schools" and it's pretty obvious that Republicans nationally are expecting the Virginia governor's race to provide a roadmap for next year's midterms. If Youngkin wins, or even if he loses narrowly, you can expect a doubling-down on culture wars everywhere.
Parents should obviously get a say in their child's education. But it is more important for political leaders to foster an educational system that allows for a diverse set of options—that is, one that allows families both a voice and an option to exit.
Youngkin is promising to help Republicans win the fight for control over Virginia's public school boards, but that's really just a promise to keep the culture wars burning hotter. A better alternative would be to diffuse those fights by offering families more alternatives so that it doesn't matter so much which political tribe controls the public school monopoly.
All the hoopla over the so-called "Facebook Papers" is a big nothingburger, writes Reason's Robby Soave.
The revelations published this week in several major newspapers and based on documents leaked by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen are supposed to show that the social media giant prioritized "rage and misinformation" in order to keep growing. Instead, it all seems to confirm that Facebook is struggling to attract younger users and is increasingly being carved up by newer, more agile competitors.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged those issues during a call with investors on Monday:
????Whoa. Major news from Zuckerberg:
He says Facebook moving forward will "retooling" to make "serving young adults the north star, rather than optimizing for older people."
— Says the "shift will take years, not months."
— Sara Fischer (@sarafischer) October 25, 2021
"No amount of handwringing about addictive platforms or monopolistic practices can disguise the fact that the site is losing popularity with young people, and increasingly looks like a dying star," writes Soave.
The world's first commercial space station is in the works, thanks to a collaboration between Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and several other private spaceflight companies.
Announcing #OrbitalReef - a commercial space station transforming human space travel and opening access to new markets. Our team developing the premier commercial destination in low Earth orbit: @BlueOrigin @SierraSpaceCo @BoeingSpace @RedwireSpace @ASU https://t.co/PP4wxrfkF3 pic.twitter.com/qJDdYg7BSv
— Orbital Reef (@OrbitalReef) October 25, 2021
Orbital Reef, The New York Times reports, would be capable of housing 10 astronauts at a time and could be built by the end of the decade.
• Thanksgiving is going to cost a wing and a leg this year.
• The U.S. accidentally killed a food aid worker and his family via drone strike last month—amid a food crisis in Afghanistan:
The World Food Programme estimates nearly 23 million of the country's 39m population are now unable to get regular access to enough food.
— Telegraph World News (@TelegraphWorld) October 25, 2021
• Your latest reminder that war with China would be a disaster.
• Washington, D.C., is America's fourth-most rat-infested city according to the pest control experts at Orkin. Make your own joke.