Seventy-three governors have served the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1776. On January 15, 2022, that number will rise to 74 with the inauguration of Glenn Youngkin.
According to Virginia’s Constitution, the governor takes office along with the lieutenant governor and attorney general on the Saturday after the second Wednesday in January following the election. The events of the inauguration have developed with the office, but many of its rituals have been in place for decades now.
A Library of Virginia exhibit describes how some of the familiar customs of gubernatorial inaugurations came to be. Since 1902, they have taken place during a joint session of the General Assembly. Since 1914, they have occurred outdoors. The outgoing governor accompanies the governor-elect to the House of Delegates chamber in the state Capitol, and the General Assembly moves outside to witness the oath of office and inaugural address. A parade, featuring representatives from all over the Commonwealth, and a reception follows. The modern inaugural gala dates to Linwood Holton’s inauguration, when he became the first Republican Governor since Reconstruction.
As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, I was privileged to be part of these events beginning with George Allen’s inauguration in 1994, when the temperature was 20 degrees and the windchill reported anywhere from five degrees to nine degree below zero. Many on the back of the platform slipped away from the ceremony to warm up in the Capitol, including myself.
Later, as the Majority Leader of the House of Delegates, I assumed the traditional role of announcing guests on the platform. I first performed this task at the inauguration of Mark Warner.
The inauguration of Tim Kaine in 2006 was especially memorable because it took place in Williamsburg; the state Capitol was undergoing renovations at the time. Holding the event in such a historic place reminded all of us attending of Virginia’s long and distinguished past.
The gubernatorial inauguration of 2010 was back in Richmond, but it held particular meaning for me as Bob McDonnell, my friend and former House of Delegates colleague, took the oath of office.
Some of the names of past governors belong not just to the Commonwealth but to the country. Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson hold honored places in American history, and their stories included service as governor of Virginia.
Three governors went on to serve as presidents of the United States. In addition to Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler held office as chief executive of both our state and country. Tyler was following a family tradition: his father had held the office, too. That was a distinction he held with the man with whom he shared the presidential ticket in 1840, William Henry Harrison. Although Harrison made his name as a soldier in the present-day Midwest, his father Benjamin Harrison V had served as Virginia’s governor.
In some ways, the office they held differs greatly from that of today. I recall a State of the Commonwealth address when I was in the House of Delegates delivered by then-Governor Warner. He supported an end to the single consecutive term limit imposed by the Virginia Constitution on governors and noted that Patrick Henry had not been subject to such a rule. After the speech, I jokingly noted to him as an aside that I would be happy to give modern governors what Patrick Henry had. Henry was indeed not subject to a one term limit, but he was elected by the General Assembly to single year terms only.
Although the office has changed, inaugurations remain times to celebrate in our Commonwealth. They are not just about one man or one party. They are about the institutions of representative government that serve Virginia.
I look forward to attending this year’s ceremony and witnessing Governor-elect Youngkin, Lieutenant Governor-elect Winsome Sears, and Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares take their oaths of office. I congratulate them and wish them the best of luck as they assume these positions of great trust given them by the people of Virginia.
– Congressman Morgan Griffith