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Kirk Cox Plans to Make Virginia Red Again

Kirk Cox gestures in front of class
Kirk Cox guest lectures at Liberty University last month. (Kirk Cox Facebook page)

Former state Speaker of the House Kirk Cox formally announced his candidacy for governor on Tuesday, arguing voters had quickly soured on the Democrats whose ascendency cost him his old post. 

Del. Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said that as governor, he would revisit legislation passed this year by the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly. He argued Democrats passed unpopular and economically damaging bills on issues like gun control, climate change and raising the minimum wage.

“Democrats will own what’s happened in this state and that will not be a good thing,” Cox said in an interview.

The 63 year-old former government teacher would seem to face formidable headwinds. Republicans have not won a statewide race since 2009 and Joe Biden won Virginia by 9 points earlier this month -- the largest margin of any presidential candidate since 1988. Cox has so far not acknowledged Biden’s national win, arguing he did not want to “Monday morning quarterback” President Donald Trump’s baseless allegations of fraud and would await the December 14 electoral college vote to anoint a winner.

Cox pointed to Republicans’ strong showing in 2009, after Barack Obama’s presidential win, as evidence that the pendulum will swing in Virginia.

“I think the 2021 landscape will look a lot different than the last few years,” Cox said. 

Cox won a tight race in a Democratic-leaning district in 2019 in part by pointing toward his leadership in expanding Medicaid. He says that record -- plus a conservatice stance on issues like guns and abortion -- make him the best candidate make Virginia red again.

Cox said he would like to “redo” the state’s gradual minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2023, “and make it a lot more friendly for small business.” He said the Clean Economy Act, which was designed to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, would also cost too much for businesses and consumers and should be re-examined. Cox said Virginia’s pre-2020 gun control laws were sufficient. And he remains opposed to the Virginia Values Act, a bill that added workplace and housing protections for LGBTQ Virginians, while suggesting that “we are where we are.” Any changes a future GOP governor proposes would have to clear the Democrat-controlled Senate, which is not up for re-election in 2021.

His main Republican competition so far comes from state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Midlothian), a self-described “firebrand” who has repeatedly floated misinformation to a large social media following and quit the senate’s GOP caucus over disagreements with its leadership. Chase has already attacked Cox for his vote on Medicaid expansion, which has insured nearly 500,000 Virginians. 

Cox said he believed he could edge out Chase in either a nominating convention or a primary, though he said he preferred the latter.

“I think people are looking, as I've said, for steady, thoughtful leadership, not just being controversial for being controversial sake,” Cox said. 

The former speaker also attacked Gov. Ralph Northam’s handling of the pandemic, which he said had proven inconsistent. Cox says the governor should have laid out statewide plans for reopening schools virtually and in-person, five days a week, but school districts were left to navigate on their own.

“We did nothing to give them any confidence that we were really going to use all our resources to help them open,” Cox said. “And so now you find yourself in this hodgepodge situation which is leaderless.”

Grant Fox, communications director of Democratic Party of Virginia, said it was Cox’s record, not the Democrats', that voters would find off-putting. 

“His record of right-wing extremism is something Amanda Chase and Donald Trump would admire,” Fox said. “Virginians made the right decision when they voted his party out of power last year, and they'll keep him far from the governor's mansion next year too." 

Cox has served in the House of Delegates since 1990, making him the second-longest serving member of that body. 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include more details on Cox’s stances on specific issues mentioned in the piece.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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