May 11, 2022 - Politics

Town Talker: Youngkin's biggest nemesis is this Alexandria Dem

State sen. Adam Ebbin looks off the camera outside a cafe

Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

Having returned to Del Ray from the funhouse of Richmond politics, Democratic state senator Adam Ebbin recently sat down at St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, reflecting on his new-found influence in the state capitol, where he has become the chief nemesis of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Catch-up quick: Ebbin tanked Youngkin’s pick for environmental secretary, Andrew Wheeler, the EPA administrator under Trump — a rare show of muscle for a head of the committee that oversees nominations.

In turn, Youngkin last month vetoed nine out of 10 bills sponsored by Ebbin — while in six cases approving identical versions from the lower chamber.

  • “I’m not that threatening of a person,” Ebbin tells me. “He wants to keep score, I guess.”

Why it matters: The hostility — one Northern Virginian versus another — has elevated the low-key lawmaker from Alexandria, an 18-year veteran of the statehouse who leads influential panels on the governor’s appointments and marijuana reform. But it’s also opened a petty new chapter in the business of governing.

What I’m hearing: Negotiations for the state’s two-year budget due next month are continuing. Details are tightly under wraps, with possible tax cuts and business incentives on the line. Through it all, feuds between Youngkin — who got to Richmond from Great Falls — and lawmakers from his backyard are seen to be complicating the task.

  • “There’s a lot of theater in politics, and oftentimes what plays out in public between competing parties has no impact on the ability to sit down together in private and strike deals,” says Mark Rozell, dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. “But that’s not where we are right now. This seems deeply personal.”

What happened: The two aren’t talking. The last time they met privately was in late February, at Youngkin’s ceremonial office over a month into his term. Ebbin says he walked in with a full agenda, but the meeting — which included some Wheeler talk — ended after only 10 minutes.

  • Later, one of Ebbin’s bills was being held up by the GOP. When Ebbin inquired why, as he recounted to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a top Youngkin aide replied: “You threatened the governor.”
  • The public tiff — Wheeler, vetoes — followed.

The other side: When asked to comment on the friction, Youngkin press secretary Macaulay Porter emailed me some of the guv’s previous statements in which he cites “fundamental differences” between his vision and Democrats, and says, “That doesn’t bother me.”

The big picture: In a 21-19 Dem-held Senate, Ebbin is a key piece of his party’s firewall against Youngkin and the GOP-led House.

  • Describing himself as “pretty progressive,” the Democrat has for years led on marijuana reform and crafted legislation to legalize recreational sales, which Youngkin and the statehouse punted this year.
  • He says he will run for reelection in 2023.

Profile: A Long Island native, Ebbin moved to Alexandria in 1989 after graduating from American University. He worked for Washington City Paper for nearly a decade, on the business side when David Carr was editor.

What’s next: Political feuding will make consensus harder to reach.

  • “When conflict starts in Virginia, it tends to deteriorate over time,” says Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “And the governor blames Northern Virginia lawmakers for a lot of his defeated items.”

💬 St. Elmo's was a good breakfast joint, but now I'm wondering: Where are the political haunts in Northern Virginia? Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics. Drop me a line: [email protected]


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