Speaker-Designee Kirk Cox (R-66) presented his ideas for leading a House of Delegates that was been thoroughly shaken up in November’s election to Loudoun business leaders at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast Tuesday.
Cox was elected by the GOP caucus to replace Del. William J. Howell as the speaker of the house. Howell has served in that position since 2003, but did not seek re-election to the 28th district House seat he has held since 1992.
Assuming Republicans retain control of the house with a 51-49 seat majority, Cox will take over the speaker’s duties Jan. 1. But Howell’s district is one of four subject to recounts, which could swing the House to Democratic control.
Both Cox and the local delegates and senators at the breakfast said the election reshaped the House of Delegates, which was tipped from a 66-34 Republican majority to a slim, one-vote Republican majority. And as Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13) pointed out, while the lieutenant governor casts a tie-breaking vote in the senate, tie votes are possible in the house.
Cox said he expects the rebalanced General Assembly to work on areas of broad consensus, such as economic development.
“It can’t be just a series of state incentives that go to the issue of what I call whale hunting,” Cox said. He pointed toward the GO Virginia initiative, a partnership of government and business to encourage a regional approach to attracting business.
GO Virginia hopes to write millions of dollars in grants to support economic development. The Northern Virginia region board includes, among others, Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn), former delegate Tom Rust, Telos Corporation CEO John Wood, FCi Federal founder Sharon Virts, and Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority President and CEO Jack Potter.
Cox, a former teacher, also said the General Assembly could tackle issues of education, such as Standards of Learning and offering more online classes from Virginia community colleges and universities. He also said the state needs to make sure its reserve funds stay healthy, and that the state climbs back up the ranks of best places to open a business.
And he said he expects to work alongside governor-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
“I do think we can work with the governor-elect,” Cox said. “I think it’s incumbent on us to work with the governor-elect, and let’s be realistic—there are two parties for a reason. That’s not bad.”
Mark Miller, a member of the Loudoun County Public Library Board of Trustees and the board of the Library of Virginia, pressed Cox on the state library’s budget.
“In 2007, the discretionary budget in real dollars was $14.1 million,” Miller said. “Today it is $9.9 million. So, I have to ask, is that from a failure to believe in the mission, or simply benign neglect, and whichever is the answer, when can we expect to see a restoration to 2007 levels, which would still be well short of the library’s need?”
Cox avoided a direct answer for Miller, but said the Library of Virginia “plays an important role.”
Loudoun legislators including Black, Sen. Barbara A. Favola (D-31), Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-33), Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33), Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), Del. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-86), and Del. John J. Bell (D-87) also attended for a brief panel discussion. Newly elected delegates Wendy Gooditis (D-10), David Reid (D-32), and Karrie Delaney (R-67) were invited, according to the Chamber, but did not attend.
Democrats said they expect the conversation in the House to change now that they are only one seat away from parity, and Murphy said she has not yet given up on the four seats up for recount, three of which were won by Republicans.
Favola said she expects the shift will push legislators to the center and lead to more negotiations among them.
“This is a very good thing for the commonwealth,” Favola said. “Some of the issues that have more starkly divided us, I think we will make some more progress on, because there will be a realization that Virginia really is much more in the center than the General Assembly had previously realized.”
She said the House of Delegates could take up Medicaid expansion and more gun safety laws.
Boysko said the new delegates will give voice to “people who have not had a seat at the table before.”
“The breadth of knowledge and life experience that they bring with them is going to bring just a bunch of new ideas and priorities that we haven’t seen in the General Assembly before,” Boysko said.
“I think that you’re going to see, perhaps, some toying with issues dealing with minimum wage, dealing with right to work, with voter integrity, things of that sort,” Black predicted.
Cox was first elected to the House in 1989, representing Colonial Heights area. He spent more than 30 years as a public school teacher and is a member of the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board. He would be the 55th speaker of the House.
Tuesday’s event closed out the Chamber’s 2017 PolicyMaker Series.