In 2018, I joined a couple of dozen students visiting the state Capitol during the General Assembly session to advocate for legislation. They specifically wanted to talk to then-Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, a public school teacher, believing a teacher would be sympathetic to their issue. What legislator wouldn’t be thrilled by enthusiastic kids showing up at their office to talk?
The students couldn’t get their meeting with Speaker Cox at his office, so they tried to intercept him at the Capitol. They lined the hall outside of the room where they anticipated he would be, patiently waiting for him to emerge, but he didn’t come out. Then the students got word that he was returning to his office, so they hurried back, hoping to find him there. It was almost like he was avoiding them. That’s how they spent the rest of their day––rushing around the Capitol on a wild goose chase of a quest to meet with an elected leader.
There is one thing I didn’t mention about this determined group of students––they were undocumented. They were in Richmond advocating for a bill to provide in-state tuition to undocumented students at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. The bill hadn’t been assigned to a committee, which is the first place a bill goes for a vote before it advances in the General Assembly. Speaker Cox had the power to give the bill a committee assignment. In refusing to do so, he was essentially killing the bill without a single hearing or vote.
All the students wanted was for their bill to be heard before a committee. They knew it wouldn’t pass in the Republican-dominated legislature, but they wanted the opportunity to speak before the committee to share their personal experiences. They thought that as a teacher, Speaker Cox would find some space in his heart for them––instead, he chose to hide.
As Speaker of the House, Del. Cox thwarted progress on a lot of bills like in-state tuition for undocumented students and raising the state’s minimum wage. Now Cox––now just a plain ol’ Delegate after losing the speakership when Democrats took the House majority this year––is running for Governor of Virginia in 2021. He thinks he’s the right guy to lead the Commonwealth after holding office for 30 years.
Del. Cox is the wrong choice as Virginia’s leader. During his 30 year stretch as Delegate, he hasn’t done much for the Commonwealth. In fact, he has held us back on many fronts. Here’s a brief look at how Kirk Cox is the Grinch who stole progress for 30 years.
- Slashing Virginia’s Education Budget: As a teacher, one would think that Cox would be a fierce advocate for education in the Commonwealth. On the contrary––Cox and his colleagues in the Republican Party not only denied opportunities to undocumented students, but they also systematically underfunded public education for years.
- Blocking Medicaid Expansion in the Commonwealth: When the historic Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, states were given the opportunity to expand health coverage to low-income residents and the federal government would have footed the bill for it. Del. Cox and his conservative compatriots vehemently opposed expanding healthcare access to 400,000 Virginians for years.
- Deciding When and Whether a Person Can Start a Family: Conservatives in Virginia passed more than a dozen restrictions on abortion access since Roe v. Wade. Cox was recognized twice as “Legislator of the Year” by the Family Foundation, an organization of anti-abortion zealots.
- Denying Action on Gun Violence Prevention: Cox was House Speaker when Governor Northam called for a special session in 2019 to address gun violence in the Commonwealth after the May mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Cox adjourned the House of Delegates 90 minutes after the session started, punting all of the proposed gun safety legislation to the state crime commission for “more thorough study.” The fact that gun violence was growing every year with more people dying didn’t necessitate more study––it required action from our lawmakers who are responsible for the safety of their constituents.
Virginians Want A New Way That Doesn’t Include Kirk Cox
Cox represents the old-school “Virginia Way:” a “good ol’boys club” in service of corporate donors, the National Rifle Association, and right wing zealots who stifled progress in the Commonwealth for decades. Virginia residents clearly rejected the old “Virginia Way” the past few years by voting in progressive legislators who took swift action on Medicaid expansion, gun violence prevention, expanding access to voting, protecting abortion access, increasing the minimum wage, and yes, granting in-state tuition to undocumented student residents.
Get Out The Way, Cox
Delegate Cox and the Virginia Republican Party didn’t get the memo that the Commonwealth is heading in a new direction where people want action––not delay tactics and outright denial of reality. Cox announced his bid for Governor vowing to fight back against cancel culture. Is that really all you got for us Cox? I can think of dozens of issues that need to be addressed rather than this obtuse, right-wing obsession with cancel culture.
Nonetheless, we can’t mail this one in, y’all. We still gotta vote to make sure Grinches like Cox go back to their dark caves and stop trying to steal our progressive joy. The election isn’t until November, but it’s never too late to make sure you’re registered to vote because we’re going to need every vote we can get next fall.