As vulnerable Republicans attempt to build belated good will, Cox remains silent
RICHMOND – As legislators prepare for the special session to address gun violence on July 9, the greatest uncertainty is whether Republican Speaker Kirk Cox will even allow members of the House of Delegates to do their jobs and vote on common-sense gun violence prevention proposals.
Historically, Republican Speakers, including Cox, have sent priority legislation to small subcommittees stacked with the most conservative Republican members to effectively declare the bills dead on arrival – if the bills are given a hearing at all.
Cox’s initial reaction to the special session, even in the wake of the tragedy in Virginia Beach, indicated that he intends to do just that. In a statement following the announcement, Cox called the session “hasty and suspect,” despite that fact that some one thousand Virginians die every year from gun violence. He also said that the Virginia Tech Review Panel, which was formed after the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 in which 32 students and faculty were killed, resulted in “substantive and bipartisan reforms to keep our communities safer” – even though in 2017, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that, “In fact, the opposite occurred. Gun rights, not gun restrictions, have grown stronger.”
Recently, Delegate David Yancey (R-Newport News), who won his seat in 2017 by a random tie-breaker, announced he will put forth his own bill during special session. Yancey’s proposal, while narrow and far from the comprehensive approach Virginians are requesting, may be part of Speaker Cox’s broader strategy to protect his vulnerable members while appeasing the right-wing hardliners in his caucus. In fact, Cox has used this strategy time and again.
In the 2019 general session, House Democrats put forth a resolution to enshrine gender equality in the U.S. Constitution by ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. Republicans opposed the ERA, despite the 81 percent of Virginians who support its passage. But Yancey, conscious of his uphill re-election campaign this year, expressed support for the ERA. Even so, Speaker Cox refused to allow the ERA for a floor vote, and when House Democrats put forth a procedural resolution to attempt to force a vote, Yancey was given a pass to vote with the Democrats while confident the other members of his caucus would block the resolution – and they did.
Similarly, another vulnerable Republican in this year’s elections, Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach), posted on his social media this weekend that he was celebrating Pride. Yet Davis sits on the General Laws committee, which refused to even hold a hearing this year on the Equality Act or a bill that would end discriminatory practices against LGBTQ+ Virginians in housing. By not even hearing the bills, Davis was spared having to vote on them, and Cox and his Republican hardliners were able to once again block LGBTQ+ equality.
“Speaker Cox and House Republicans have a policy – when it looks like common-sense legislation might pass with a full floor vote, they block the bills from ever getting to the floor,” said House Democratic Caucus Executive Director Trevor Southerland. “Cox spares his vulnerable members from ever having to be accountable to their communities, while the right-wing hardliners set the policy agenda. This special session, we can pass gun violence solutions – but only if Cox allows them to the floor.”
Recently, Cox’s Democratic challenger, Sheila Bynum-Coleman, earned national media attention in a Vanity Fair profile, which noted, “Bynum-Coleman, whose daughter is a gun violence survivor, is an advocate for gun control legislation; Cox has called efforts to study the issue after the Virginia Beach mass shooting ‘hasty and suspect’.”