Republican incumbents fighting to keep seats in the 10th Senate and 66th House Districts debated Democratic challengers Wednesday night. Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, elected to the district in 1989, faced opponent Sheila Bynum-Coleman. Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, in his first Senate re-election campaign, debated challenger Ghazala Hashmi.
A crowd of around 100 people filled Studio A of Virginia’s home for Public Media, and more tuned in to hear the debate live on-air. The candidates answered questions submitted by the audience in addition to ones written by hosts ChamberRVA and VPM.
Cox, who was elected unanimously as Speaker of the House in 2018, and Bynum-Coleman, now in her fourth political bid for a House district win, fielded questions on a variety of issues including budget priorities, housing, health care, gun control, climate change and civil rights.
Bynum-Coleman, a small business owner, said she was inspired to run for office by her son, who has a learning disability.
Bynum-Coleman and Cox agreed that education is a top legislative priority. Bynum-Coleman seeks to increase teacher pay as well as funding for schools and trade programs.
Cox, a retired teacher, also wants to raise teacher salaries to the national average. He added that he would focus on building the state’s cash reserve — currently over $1 billion — in the 2020 budget session.
“We have worked extremely hard to build that reserve against the recession,” Cox said. “I would like to build that reserve further.”
Both candidates agreed that Virginia should remain ranked No. 1 for business but Bynum-Coleman emphasized that the state should focus on workers.
“I’m a small business owner, and we also have to make sure that Virginia is No. 1 for workers,” Bynum-Coleman said. “We’re talking about corporations versus people.”
Both candidates voiced support for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. Cox said “discrimination should be against the law,” even though bills such as HB 2067 and HB 2677 to end anti-LGBTQ discrimination in work and housing did not make it past Republican-led House sub-committees in the regular legislative session. Cox said that state employment decisions should be merit-based.
On the same issue, Bynum-Coleman said legislators should put measures in place so no one is discriminated against based on gender or sexual orientation.
Candidates were asked if they believe in climate change. Cox did not directly respond yes or no, but did say the state needs to be smart about alternative sources, that he has worked very hard on clean water and coastal flooding issues and that he’s against taxpayers absorbing costly energy tax policies.
Bynum-Coleman said she believes in climate change and wants the state to go beyond federal government requirements to ensure clean water and clean air. She talked multiple times about “stopping the chemicals that are going into our water.”
In response to defining common sense gun legislation and gun regulation, Cox recognized that gun violence is a “serious problem” but sidestepped a direct answer to the question on restrictions. He pointed to the “constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens” and that Virginia has a lower crime rate than states with “more aggressive measures” for gun control.
Bynum-Coleman, whose daughter was shot in 2016, “wholeheartedly” wants universal background checks, which she said has support across the political spectrum and even among “a group of National Rifle Association members.” She also she wants to ban bump stocks.