The Virginia House of Delegates unanimously elected Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) on Wednesday as the 55th Speaker of the House. Cox was sworn in immediately following his election. Below are his remarks to the House as prepared for delivery.
If the House would allow me a moment.
Three hundred and ninety nine years ago, our forefathers gathered in a small brick church on a tiny island on the very edge of a big continent and the precipice of an even larger legacy. Four centuries later, the work of the first representative assembly in the New World continues with the members of this body assembled here as the Virginia House of Delegates.
The gravity of this moment should not escape us as we embark on the inspiring task of ushering this historic institution into its 400th year. From Jamestown to Williamsburg to Richmond; from the Revolution to the Civil War to Civil Rights — this House and its members have shaped and molded the arc of history that brings us to where we are today.
My words are inadequate to express the honor I feel standing before you today as the Speaker of the House. I will simply say, thank you.
Thank you for the trust you have placed in me. The office of Speaker is a Constitutional office, the responsibilities of which transcend party labels. My oath and allegiance are to this body, this Commonwealth and its Constitution, and to our God. I do not take the obligations I have sworn to you lightly, and pray for guidance, wisdom, and strength as I strive to serve each of you and the people of Virginia. Over the course of the next two years, I will lean heavily not only on my faith, but also on many of you as I begin this tremendous journey.
I stand here today succeeding a great man. I freely admit that I will never be as funny or as charming, but I do hope to fulfill the duties of this office with every bit as much character and integrity. Speaker Howell remains in this body’s hearts and prayers as we begin to work this year.
Personally, I would like to thank my wife Julie and our four boys, for their love and support over the last 27 years. I would like to recognize Julie, Cameron, and my brother Joe for being here with us today. Those who have been here awhile know that success in public service is not possible without the support of your spouse and your family.
This is a lesson that the 19 new members with us today will learn very quickly, though I expect many are well on their way to understanding already.
To the new members, we welcome each of you — and your families — to this family, the Virginia House of Delegates. You no doubt are excited, anxious even, and perhaps a little nervous about the task before you. I certainly was in 1989. Stepping across the marble floor of Mr. Jefferson’s historic Capitol is awe-inspiring even to those of us who have spent decades here, but to the newly-initiated it can be intimidating.
My advice, relax, trust in yourself, your colleagues, as well as this institution. You will find your way, and many stand ready to help. Though we must always remember that the seats we occupy do not belong to us, they belong to the people we have the privilege to represent. They existed long before any of us were born and, will exist long after we depart.
As a former government teacher of 30 years, you had to guess I would include a small lesson in my remarks. The House of Delegates use to be known as the House of Burgesses. Many of you know that. But what you may not know is that the word Burgess is a British word meaning an inhabitant of a town with full rights of citizenship. That has special meaning, this body was literally founded to be a house of citizen servants elected by citizens.
Opening day of session is a timely reminder for all of us, that as we begin the earnest work of governing, we occupy a House where the partisan makeup is very different than it has been for nearly two decades.
For the past several weeks, the five-feet wide center aisle that symbolically separates the two parties of this chamber, has sometimes felt five miles wide.
The first and foremost tasks of this body is to bridge that divide. We are not two parties, we are one House tasked with the responsibility of governing one Commonwealth, improving the lives of one group..the citizens we serve.
As we come together as a body to heal the wounds of an election season that lasted longer than any of us expected, I pray we will renew the commitment to governing.
I am not blind to the fact that is no small task. We have a budget to balance, we have schools to improve, and an opioid crisis to fight just to name a few of the specific items on a lengthy to do list. But, we must get to work.
In the coming days and weeks, we will all lay out other priorities for this specific 60-day session — whether it’s funding schools, putting people to work at jobs with bigger paychecks, making a commute a little safer and a little quicker, or advancing innovation in technology, we should all focus on advancing practical solutions to everyday issues.
On Saturday, we will inaugurate a new governor, Ralph Northam. I am particularly optimistic about the prospects of working with Governor-elect Northam. He is a product of this Legislature and someone who has worked well with governors and members of both parties. We have met, and I believe we have the potential to make this session, and the ones that follow, productive for the people of Virginia.
We won’t agree on everything—that’s the beauty of a two-party system—but let us find those areas where we can agree and act on them in order to improve the opportunities and well-being of all Virginians.
As your Speaker, I make you this promise, I will strive to always remind us that we are a governing body, not a political one. We are not here for the Facebook likes, or shares. We are here to vote Aye or Nay in service to the constituents we serve. We are charged by the people to craft the public policy of the Commonwealth as one of three co-equal branches of government.
The work is never done, despite this, we must always do it well. And we must do it in a manner worthy of the esteemed nature of this body — with integrity, civility, and grace.
This chamber is home to an historic institution of which we are all privileged to be apart. But, we cannot allow the partisanship that has infected so much of our country to distract us any longer.The work of governing begins today, and this House must fulfill its role as a lawmaking body. And we must do it in the manner that Virginians not only expect but deserve. The time is upon us, so let us begin anew. Together, towards an even brighter future.