ARLINGTON, Va. (DC News Now) — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s pardon of a Loudoun County parent whose daughter had been sexually assaulted at school has caused controversy with some accusing him of playing politics.
The governor in a statement released over the weekend said his pardon of Scott Smith was about protecting parent’s rights – an issue that political watchers say propelled him to win the highest office in Virginia.
“He figures parents matter can do it again,” said Larry Sabato, the founder, and director of the University of Virginia’s Center For Politics. “Parents matter. The slogan worked for him once. He got elected governor essentially because of the parent’s issue.”
And that, Sabato said, could spark more votes for the Republican governor in his effort to flip control of the State Senate to the GOP and fire up his base.
“It does contradict the idea that Republicans are pro law and order, but then I think that image has suffered a lot anyway,” Sabato said.
The boy was allegedly wearing a skirt when he assaulted Smith’s daughter, causing the case to become entangled in national debates over transgender issues.
Youngkin declined to talk to reporters about the pardon on Monday after a 9-11 remembrance, citing the importance of the day of honoring those who perished on Sept. 11, 2001.
In a statement released on Sunday when he issued the pardon, however, the governor said a parent’s right to be involved in a child’s life “should never be undermined by bureaucracy, school divisions or the state.”
“Scott Smith is a dedicated parent who’s faced unwarranted charges in his pursuit to protect his daughter,” Youngkin’s statement read. “Scott’s commitment to his child despite the immense obstacles is emblematic of the parental empowerment movement that started in Virginia. In Virginia, parents matter and my resolve to empower parents is unwavering.”
The Smith case was a flashpoint in the fierce debate over education and transgender student policies that Youngkin tapped into, calling for more rights of parents to be respected.
County officials said there was a confrontation caught on video at the school board meeting threatening a woman and had to be restrained by deputies. Smith and other parents at the time accused the school system of trying to cover up the incidents involving the student who was transferred to another school where he assaulted another girl.
Smith told DC News Now on Sunday that “we need this to end,” referring to parents getting punished for protecting their children.
Smith also called his situation a political prosecution that Youngkin rescued him from.
“I’m thankful for him giving me an off-ramp to a politicized and weaponized justice system,” Smith said, adding that he wanted to win this case on his own.
“But I don’t think here in Loudoun County, unfortunately, that’s possible right now,” he added.
Sabota said Youngkin is communicating with his GOP base with the November elections in mind.
“Among the Republican faithful, they’re very conservative these days, this is a plus for Youngkin,” Sabato said. “I don’t know how big a plus, but it’s certainly where a large majority of Republicans would come down.”