Thursday, August 15, 2019

Big Trouble for Republicans in the Virginia House of Delegates

Short, unkind story
The courts recently threw out Republican-drawn maps for the Virginia House of Delegates. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, with the Republican leaders in the Virginia House arguing vociferously that they had not racially gerrymandered the maps. Courts said, yes you did, and now you'll have new maps drawn by a special master. (The Virginia Senate maps were not part of the litigation.)

Virginia Democrats were already within two seats of controlling both the House and the Senate. They made huge gains in the last elections in 2017, and they intend to take both houses in the elections of  2019. Yeah, Virginia is for lovers.

Kirk Cox,
Speaker of the Virginia
House of Delegates
One of those Republican legislative leaders who went to the Supremes for reprieve, and who was going to be most devastated by remapping, happened to be Kirk Cox, the speaker of the House, "the most powerful Republican in Virginia" (WashPost). Cox's 66th House District suddenly went from R+25.5 to D+6.5. His former District had been 76 percent white. Now it's 58 percent, with 34 percent black citizens. Cox has 30,000 new constituents he doesn't know.

Good reading about Kirk Cox in the WashPost. Interesting politician, and a strong one. He's "a reserved Christian conservative steeped in the intricacies of policy and parliamentary procedure. He supports gun rights and opposes abortion. But he has mostly tried to keep a lid on social legislation that has caused problems for his party, most notably in 2012, with an uproar over a bill that would have required most women seeking an abortion to first undergo a vaginal ultrasound. He has had certain hot-button bills — from conservatives and liberals alike — killed in committees."

Not only moderate but courageous at times, and personable. He spent his working life as a teacher of social studies in middle schools. He taught -- successfully and with good vibes -- many African-American children of parents and aunts and uncles and cousins of some of those 30,000 new constituents. He relates well. According to Laura Vozella, he's showing up directly in the black neighborhoods he's now inherited, talking directly to black voters, and winning black votes. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “It’s also an opportunity. You have to look at it that way ... I always say, ‘I’d like to earn your vote.’ ”

Sheila Bynum-Coleman
The Democratic Challenger
Sheila Bynum-Coleman is a young (47) African-American woman who almost won a seat in the Virginia House in 2017. She came within 815 votes of beating a Republican incumbent in a different district (against whom she had also run in 2015 and got trounced). She's been remapped for 2019 into Cox's district, and she's coming on strong.

"Bynum-Coleman is a building contractor." I had to read that line twice, and then I went looking. She's indeed listed on the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation as a "single-family residential contractor" and as a member of the Virginia State Licensing Board for Contractors. That's pretty powerful in its own right. She's got to be tactically smart and knows what she's doing.

She has a political science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and tells an impassioned personal story -- "A son with a learning disability. A daughter who was shot. A cousin rejected by a landlord because she is married to another woman .... ‘We don’t rent to y’all,’ she says her cousin was told. 'Right here in Richmond, Virginia. How is that possible in 2019?' ”

Crystal Balling
If hardcore Trumpists in Cox's district are as insane about moderate Republicans as they are in North Carolina, and consequently have no enthusiasm for coming out to vote on November 5 for Cox...

And if the strong blue wave is still rolling in Virginia in 2019 like it was in 2017...

Then the remapping of Cox's District 66 will have been the fatal blow and the last straw.

But if Republican hardliners hang with him, and if the fabled blue wave of 2017 has fizzled in 2019, Cox can survive on his deep community commitments and his personality.

Cox is not the only Republican incumbent in both House and Senate who has strong Democratic challengers. Even if Cox can hold onto his seat, he may not hold onto the speakership.

No comments: