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2018-01-17 / Featured / News

Kirk Cox takes over a House divided

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


After weeks of recount battles, Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, was finally sworn in as speaker of the House last week. 
ASH DANIEL After weeks of recount battles, Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, was finally sworn in as speaker of the House last week. ASH DANIEL After an occasionally dramatic, contentious two-month battle for control of the Virginia House of Delegates, the selection of its leader felt almost anticlimactic.

On the opening day of the 2018 General Assembly session, delegates unanimously chose Kirk Cox last week to serve as speaker of the House for the next two years.

First elected in 1989, the retired high school government teacher now is one of the commonwealth’s most powerful politicians. But he struck a statesmanlike tone in his initial address as Virginia’s 55th speaker, noting that the responsibilities of his office “transcend party labels.”

“As your speaker, I make you this promise: I will strive to always remind us that we are a governing body, not a political one,” Cox said. “We are not here for Facebook likes or shares. We are charged by the people to craft the public policy of the commonwealth as one of three co-equal branches of government.

“The work is never done. Despite this, we must always do it well. And we must do it in a manner worthy of the esteemed nature of this body – with integrity, civility and grace. We cannot allow the partisanship that has infected so much of our country to distract us any longer. The work of governing begins today.” Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who represents part of Chesterfield, was tapped by the House Republican Caucus last February to succeed outgoing Speaker William Howell, R-Stafford.

At that time, the GOP held a 66-34 majority and was considered a mortal lock to maintain control of the House into 2018. That changed in one night last November, as Democrats across Virginia rode a wave of anti-Trump sentiment to flip 15 House seats and threaten Cox’s ascension to the top leadership post.

The Republicans’ newly slender 51-49 advantage wasn’t officially secured until last Wednesday morning, when Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds announced she would not seek a second recount in the 94th District House race.

State election officials drew names to decide the winner of the Newport News district after Simonds and incumbent Del. David Yancey wound up with the same number of votes. Yancey won the draw, which was viewed by thousands over a live stream.

Cox acknowledged that the partisan makeup of the House is far different than it has been for the better part of the past two decades. He also said that over the past few weeks, the five-foot-wide center aisle that symbolically separates the two parties in the House chamber “has sometimes felt five miles wide.”

“The first and foremost task of this body is to bridge that divide. We are not two parties. We are one House tasked with the responsibility of governing one commonwealth, improving the lives of the citizens we serve,” Cox added. “As we come together as a body to heal the wounds of an election season that lasted longer than any of us expected, I pray we will renew the commitment to governing.”

House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, nominated Cox for the speakership, touting his “keen intellect” and calling him “uniquely qualified” to lead.

In a nod to bipartisanship, Del. Luke Torain, D-Prince William, seconded the nomination.

“Kirk Cox is a friend,” Torain said. “I’ve worked with him for eight years and have found him to be a man of great integrity. Although our politics may be different, I don’t look at politics. I look at the man. I know without a shadow of a doubt, he will lead this House well.” ¦

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