Former Speaker of the Virginia House, Del. Kirk Cox, cites his experience as a GOP leader and educator as assets he can bring to the governor’s office, if elected. In a crowded race for both Democrats and Republicans this year, his campaign has largely focused on emphasizing his experience and policy proposals.
The former high school teacher from Colonial Heights has served in the House for more than 30 years and served as speaker from 2018 to 2020. He was previously majority leader for eight years.
As governor, he would like to build on an initiative to trim regulations that he previously teamed up with the outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam.
“One of the things I did work with Governor Northam on my first year as speaker was that we cut regulations for the Department of Professional and Occupational Licensing and the Department of Criminal Justice Services,” Cox said, adding that as governor he would like to do that “across the board with various agencies.”
On education, he supports more trade skill programs and apprenticeships especially in correlation with what career fields are most robust in different areas of the state.
“A lot of it is aligning the degrees up where the jobs are,” Cox said.
He also has advocated for “more meaningful internships where you’re not just filing papers.”
With the pandemic’s impact on education, a concern some Virginians have raised is new or exacerbated achievement gaps in part from the shift to virtual learning over the past year.
As a result, Cox plans to mobilize current and former substitute teachers to provide one-on-one tutoring with every student in need, supplementing the efforts of full-time teachers. He also plans to expand summer remediation opportunities and financially incentivize teachers who participate in those programs.
Like fellow GOP candidates for the state’s highest offices, he also plans to lift any COVID-19 restrictions that may remain in place by the time of taking office. He also previously advocated for “responsibly” reopening schools sooner than the Northam administration has encouraged — a campaign pillar many GOP candidates have shared.
Cox cites his pro-business efforts in the state’s House as other things he will build on as governor. He’s supported the bipartisan GO Virginia program, which local governments like Charlottesville’s has utilized to bolster workforce development.
Cox would also like to enhance the Virginia Employment Commission and has listened to complaints from constituents within the past year who have had trouble having unemployment claims filed in a timely manner.
“They’ve recently been sued by plaintiffs,” Cox explained. “I would say with VEC so much of it putting leadership in place that can run the agency more efficiently. I’ve never seen an agency that is not able to return phone calls.”
On the current state of law enforcement, Cox plans for more funding for departments and the expansion of training through an investment of $50 million.
For example, he said he is impressed with Crisis Intervention Training throughout the state but also said more can be done to enhance officer interactions with people in mental health crises. The sentiment echoes one made by many across political spectrums, noting how law enforcement often responds to situations that they may not be needed in or are unprepared to best handle.
“We’ve come a long way on that but we need more teams, site beds and multi-disciplined teams that go out,” Cox explained. “We’re putting way too much on law enforcement and they are having to deal with these issues on the streets and in the jails.”
Cox also aims to reform the state’s parole board following an ongoing scandal involving its release of convicted people due in part to the pandemic and subsequent investigations.
In line with much of his party, Cox vows to defend Second Amendment rights and support pro-life legislation. He also joins his GOP competitors in criticism of outgoing Northam for his pandemic response and the control that Democrats have had the House, Senate and governor’s office.
“Northam has done a poor job working with businesses on this pandemic. One-party control has been a disaster,” he said. “I feel like I’m the experienced leader who can step up and turn a lot of that around.”
Cox said he will also be able to relate to more of the state than his fellow GOP opponents — having successfully held his seat in a district with evolving demographics. Unlike several of his opponents who come from rich business backgrounds, Cox said he can relate to large populations of middle class voters and constituents.
“I tell folks I come from the bluest Republican district in the state,” Cox explained. “I feel like I have that working class, middle class background and can relate to people with kitchen-table issues.”