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Will Youngkin appoint a DEI director, as the state budget directs?

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Will Youngkin appoint a DEI director, as the state budget directs?

May 15, 2024 | 6:03 am ET
By Nathaniel Cline
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Will Youngkin appoint a DEI director, as the state budget directs?
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Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaking to a crowd in Richmond on April 8, 2024. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

After signing a new state spending plan on Monday, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin must appoint a director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion by July 1 or risk losing money for the office, whose title he renamed by replacing “equity” with “opportunity,” a move which Democrats criticized as contrary to state code.

Youngkin considers budget proposal to redirect diversity office funds

“If the governor is not going to follow the laws, then there are consequences for it,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. “Sometimes following a law you don’t agree with is uncomfortable, but when you raise your right hand and swear to God that you are going to follow the laws of the of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, it was my understanding he took that stuff pretty seriously, but that doesn’t always seem to be the case if he doesn’t agree with the law.”

Martin Brown currently serves as the cabinet’s chief officer.

Christian Martinez, a spokesperson for the governor, when asked if the governor would return the word “equity” back into the office title, did not directly answer the question. Martinez instead said the administration has been in compliance with the law and will continue to do so.

Budget provision spells out DEI director requirement

Surovell proposed budget language in an effort to have the word “equity” put back in the office title.

According to the budget, “if the governor has not appointed a director of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by July 1, 2024” following Virginia Code 2.2-435.12, the director for the Department of Planning and Budget “shall transfer the appropriation to the Virginia Cannabis Equity Business Loan Fund.” The fund provides no- and low-interest loans to qualified, licensed cannabis business owners to help promote business ownership and economic growth in communities that were disproportionately impacted by cannabis when it was fully prohibited in the state.

Will Youngkin appoint a DEI director, as the state budget directs?
Chief Officer of Diversity, Opportunity and Inclusion Martin Brown at a cabinet event on April 8, 2024 in Richmond. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

The state budget also includes $3.6 million in funding for the DEI office over the next two years, a $1 million increase compared to the governor’s initial budget he unveiled in December.

Last April, the state’s DEI office was thrust into the national spotlight after Brown, the director, remarked that “DEI is dead” at the Virginia Military Institute.

“Let’s take a moment right now to kill that cow. DEI is dead,” Brown said. “We’re not going to bring that cow up anymore. It’s dead. It was mandated by the General Assembly, but this governor has a different philosophy of civil discourse, civility … living the golden rule, right?”

Last year, Democrats asked Attorney General Jason Miyares whether the governor was following the law when he changed the name of the position.

Surovell wrote that the DEI title mandated by the state didn’t appear on the official state website and “uses an incorrect name and refers to Mr. Brown as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Chief Diversity, Opportunity, and Inclusion Officer.” 

Miyares responded that if the governor makes sure the state’s laws relating to the DEI office are “‘faithfully executed,’ he may include within his cabinet a Chief Diversity, Opportunity and Inclusion Officer who is charged with performing duties supplemental to those of the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

The attorney general also pointed out in his response that “equity” is not defined in the statute.

“With no statutory or judicially imposed definition, the governor, in fulfilling his duty to ‘faithfully execute’ the statute, is afforded some degree of discretion in affording its terms a workable meaning,” Miyares wrote.