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Key Showdown in VA State House Race

One “ Y uu ge” 2019 State Race — Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman Aims to Topple GOPer Kirk Cox in Redistricted Virginia September 1, 2019

Yes, many political activists are concentrating on the national contests, presidential, Senate, and House races. And yes, many Democrats are thrilled that former CO Governor John Hickenlooper, whose presidential candidacy was not going anywhere, has left that race. Hickenlooper is now running to replace Trump loyalist and vulnerable first term U.S. Senator Cory Gardner. Defeating Gardner is key to “Team Blue’s” chances of retaking “Moscow Mitch” McConnell’s “Red”-run Senate. A recent poll has Hickenlooper with more than a 50-point lead over fellow Democrats aiming to challenge Gardner in their primary. In a head-to-head matchup, another poll has Hickenlooper over extremist Gardner by 13 points (See nytimes.com, Ellis, J., 8/22/19). However, we must not neglect state races. Winning state houses as well as governorships determines who will control redistricting for the 10 years after 2020. Putting these legislative chambers under “Blue” control additionally stops draconian anti-abortion and anti LGBTQ legislation. It also allows Democrats to enact Medicaid expansion under Obamacare, raise the state minimum wage, pass gun control, enact environmental reform, and other progressive legislation that GOP chambers repeatedly kill. State legislatures are the “farm teams” from which Democrats can groom future candidates for higher state and federal offices. In an off -year election, like Campaign 2019, how a state votes can, importantly, determine what issues will “play” in congressional and presidential contests. The winning party will have a “head wind” going into the upcoming national elections. That is why the 11/2019 state elections in VA will be absolutely crucial.

In VA, unlike the rest of the nation, all 140 seats in its House of Delegates and State Senate will be on the ballot in 11/2019. After the 11/2017 elections, when VA voters came out in droves and registered their hostility to Demagogue Donald, Democrats made great gains in the VA House of Delegates (HD). Currently the GOP only controls the VA House of Delegates 51-48 and the State Senate 20-19, with one vacancy in each chamber (See Vozzella, Wash. Post, 8/03/19). In fact, the GOP only held on to the House of Delegates two years ago after a race had to be decided by drawing a candidate’s name from a bowl (nytimes.com, 8/19/19).

Those 2017 Democratic gains occurred in state districts heavily gerrymandered in the GOP’s favor in the VA House of Delegates. After litigation that challenged the House of Delegates’ redistricting as unconstitutionally gerrymandered, a lower court ruled that 11 House of Delegates districts were unconstitutionally drawn because of GOP racial gerrymandering. As a result of that ruling, an outside expert realigned 26 VA House districts. The VA House of Delegates Speaker, Kirk Cox, appealed that lower court decision to the US Supreme Ct. In a 6/17/2019 ruling, SCOTUS (the Supreme Court of the United States), turned back Cox’s challenge, with even conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch joining Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion (CNN, 6/17/19, Wash. Post, 6/17/19, Albiges, M., dailypress.com, 6/17/19). Remember, racial gerrymandering, unlike political gerrymandering, is prohibited by SCOTUS. The newly drawn maps upheld by SCOTUS will be used in the 11/2019 VA state elections. One of those newly aligned districts that better reflects the growing racial and ethnically diverse VA will be held in the VA House of Delegates (HD) 66th district and will pit HD GOP Speaker Kirk Cox against Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman. Let’s look at the HD 66th and the two candidates involved in this major Old Dominion contest.

As previously noted, Cox and Bynum-Coleman will square off in the VA HD 66th. GOP Cox’s central VA HD district underwent the biggest partisan shift in the new redistricting plan. The lower court-appointed special master took Cox’s largely rural-suburban territory and stretched it miles northward. The reconfigured HD 66th now sweeps into more diverse suburbs and apartment communities that border black-majority Richmond. The city of Chesterfield is part of the HD 66th. Even without the new redistricting, Chesterfield has changed demographically, according to political scientist Stephen J. Farnsworth. Farnsworth noted that the second wave of suburban residential settlement isn’t as conservative as the people who moved out of the city a generation or two ago. People are now moving to Chesterfield to be closer to work and renting apartments in greater numbers rather than buying single-family homes. This group of people isn’t reflexively Republican. Out of a district of about 80,000, GOP Speaker Cox is being forced to introduce himself to 30,000 new constituents (Vozzella, Wash. Post, 8/03/19).

In 2011, after the 2010 redistricting, the HD 66th was 37.3% Dem. v. 62.7% GOP, a 25.5% “Red” spread. After the fairer/newer 2019 redrawing, approved by the Supreme Ct., Democrats constitute 53.2% of the 66th’s voters to the GOP’s 46.8%, a 6.5% “Blue” spread. In 2011, whites were 76% of the HD 66th’s population. The 2019 66th’s redrawing gives whites just 58% of the 66th’s population, below the statewide white average of 69%. The current HD 66th is one-third African-American (vpap.org/offices/house-of-delegates-66/redistricting, nytimes.com, Williams, T., 8/19/19).

Petersburg, VA native Marvin Kirkland “Kirk” Cox (62) graduated from Colonial Heights, VA High School. He received degrees in political and social science from James Madison University. GOPer Cox taught middle and high school social studies and government classes (ballotpedia.org/Kirk Cox, Vozzella, Wash. Post, 8/03/19). He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1989. From 2004-2010, he served as House Majority Whip. From 2010-2018, he was House Majority Leader. In 1/2018, Cox was elected Speaker of the VA House of Delegates, a position he currently holds (ballotpedia.org, progress-index.com, washingtonpost.com). In his old safely gerrymandered district, Cox first won election by nearly 5%. He trounced a Dem. by 64% in 1995, ran unopposed from 1997-2015, and won by 27 points in 2017. The 2019 election is the first one in which Cox has had to run a full- scale campaign since his initial race thirty years ago (See nytimes.com, Williams, T. 8/19/19).

In his newly reconfigured Democratic district with an increased black population, Cox talks like a “moderate.” His mantra is “practical solutions for everyday issues (Vozzella, Wash. Pos).” His real record tells a very different story. A Christian conservative, Cox opposes abortion rights and supports gun rights. Translation: he is against gun control. The NRA gave him a 93% rating. He was given a 100% score by the American Conservative Union and a 0% one by NARAL Pro-Choice VA. He is against raising VA’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage (Williams, nytimes.com, 8/19/19, votesmart.org). Cox is steeped in the intricacies of policy and parliamentary procedure. And like U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), he uses his Speaker’s post to single-handedly bury many progressive bills. He is, in fact, rightly called “The Mitch McConnell of VA (Ntl. Dem. Redistricting Committee/NRDC).” Cox often assigns bills he opposes to committees he knows will reject them. This year, Speaker Cox used that tactic on several measures that passed the VA Senate and had the votes to pass the House of Delegates on the floor. These included bills to ratify the federal ERA, Equal Rights Amendment, and to ban anti-gay discrimination in housing and government employment. Cox brags of his going door-to-door introducing himself to his new more liberal-leaning and diverse constituents. He claims he’s in their corner. Democrats, however, rightly noted that Cox, with his fight to keep his district gerrymandered, spent a couple of years and $4.5 million of taxpayer money to try to make sure these folks never became his constituents (See Vozzella, Wash. Post, 8/03/19, NRDC).

Meet Cox’s Democratic opponent, Sheila Bynum-Coleman (47). In 11/2017, African-American Bynum-Coleman fell just 819 votes short of unseating incumbent GOP Delegate Riley E. Ingram in an adjacent district before the new 2019 maps placed her in Cox’s (Vozzella, Wash. Post, 8/03/19, nytimes.com, Williams, T., 8/19/19). Bynum-Coleman was trounced by Ingram in 2015, but the Old Dominion “Blue wave,” fueled by animosity toward Demagogue Donald, nearly gave her victory in the 2017 rematch. Ms. Bynum-Coleman is a building contractor who obtained a political science degree from VA Commonwealth University. She has never held elective office. She grew up near Midlothian, VA (Vozzella).

Bynum-Coleman’s political views sharply contrast with Cox’s. She supports abortion rights, gun control, and raising the state’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage. She calls herself “a mom on a mission. I’m in this (race) to make things better. (Vozzella, Wash. Post. 8/03/19).” She was propelled into politics by several progressive issues about which she speaks passionately—more funding for schools, stricter gun control, and a ban on LGBTQ discrimination in housing and public employment. These matters are not theoretical. She has a son with a learning disability. A daughter of hers was shot at a party. A landlord rejected a cousin of hers because that cousin is married to another woman (Vozzella, nytimes.com, Williams, T.,8/19/19). Bynum-Coleman is furious about the way Speaker Cox kills bills in the House of Delegates that he opposes. She calls his actions of keeping bills away from a floor vote when they have the votes to pass from both parties “taking away the fundamental process of our democracy.” She strongly attacked Speaker Cox for shutting down a special session in 7/2019 to deal with gun control legislation proposed by Democrats after just 90 minutes. This session had been called by Dem. Gov. Ralph Northam after the 5/2019 mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 people (Vozzella, Wash. Post, Williams, nytimes.com). The 8/31/2019 gun massacre in the Midland-Odessa, TX area, once again, shows how awful Cox’s actions were.

Can Bynum-Coleman topple big name GOP Speaker Cox? The district now has a Democratic edge, but only a 6.5% margin. Cox already has at least $448,000 on hand in his personal account, plus $761,000 in a political action committee supporting his whole GOP caucus. Bynum-Coleman has just $124,000 on hand. And there is a third-party candidate, Linnard K. Harris Sr. in the race as well. Yes, national liberal groups like the Human Rights Campaign and Emily’s List plan to donate to Bynum-Coleman, assist her, and target voters. Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, a gun control group, is also donating to Bynum-Coleman. All these groups and major Democratic party ones like the DLCC (Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee), which helps elect “Blue” state candidates, and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee will have to level the playing field for her without letup straight to the 11/05/2019 election. VA is the only state in the nation in which partisan control of both legislative chambers is up for grabs in the fall of 2019. Bet on Koch Industries, the NRA, and many other GOP-leaning groups to spend oodles of money to bolster Cox’s war chest. Count on VP Mike Pence and other GOP leaders to campaign here (Vozzella, Wash. Post, nytimes.com, Williams).

Cox continues to knock on doors all summer in unfamiliar neighborhoods and introduce himself at picnics with his “moderate/pragmatic” talk. He is fighting for every vote. He has already used his money to go on the air with an ad featuring multicultural endorsers of him, and has distributed 1,500 American flags with his name attached. Some normally Democratic voters favorably remember him teaching members of their family. Bob Gibson, a founding member of an anti-gerrymandering group OneVirginia2021, said Cox “would be a tough person to knock off (nytimes.com, Williams, Wash. Post, Vozzella).” Yes, Donald is unpopular in this district and remains so in VA, a state Hillary carried. However, always remember, elections are won with money, ads, and personal shoe leather campaigning in addition to “y uu ge” turnout at the ballot box. Bynum-Coleman, against the very experienced and savvy Speaker Cox, can take nothing for granted, and neither can her fellow Democrats in VA or anywhere else.