'The Future of Bipartisanship'

Two Virginia legislators are optimistic

JMU News

SUMMARY: In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, Del. Kirk Cox (’79), a Republican, and Sen. Scott Surovell (’93), a Democrat, discussed “The Future of Bipartisanship” in a virtual event sponsored by the Madison Vision Series.

Two Virginia legislators, who are also alumni of James Madison University, modeled respectful civic discourse on Nov. 11 as they participated in a virtual Madison Vision Series event.

In the wake of the Nov. 3 general election, Del. Kirk Cox (’79), a Republican, and Sen. Scott Surovell (’93), a Democrat, discussed “The Future of Bipartisanship.”

Cox, a retired public school teacher, was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1989. He represents the 66th District, which encompasses the city of Colonial Heights and parts of Chesterfield County. He has served in a number of leadership positions in Richmond, most recently as Speaker of the House from 2018 to 2020. Prior to becoming speaker, Cox served as majority leader and majority whip. He graduated from JMU with degrees in political science and general social science.

Surovell was elected to the Virginia Senate in November 2015 and was sworn in on Jan. 13, 2016, representing the 36th District, which includes Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties and the towns of Occoquan, Dumfries and Quantico. Surovell is currently the vice chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. From 2009 to 2015, Surovell served as the state delegate for the 44th District. He majored in political science and minored in American Studies at JMU.

Noting that he has been on both sides of the political aisle in the General Assembly, Cox said, “Both the majority and the minority have crucial roles in a democratic republic. The minority has a key role, and that is to be the loyal opposition to hold the majority accountable, to ask those key questions. And, obviously, when you’re in the majority, you’re in a better position to drive policy. But the really important thing is for each side to listen to each other.”

“Richmond is a pretty collaborative place,” said Surovell, describing the atmosphere of the General Assembly. He and Cox agreed that Virginia’s legislative framework, in which legislators are part-time representatives, is important to how the system works differently from the U.S. Congress.

“You can’t go down there [to Richmond] and be a partisan warrior if you want to get things done,” Surovell said. “You don’t know when the balance of power will shift.”

The part-time nature of the state legislature also benefits the state’s citizens in that their elected representatives have to approve a balanced budget with a deadline under the law, Surovell said.

Both legislators said that many issues that come before the General Assembly split along geographic lines, rather than as partisan Democratic or Republican issues. They pointed to deliberations involving the Lake Gaston water pipeline, coal ash contamination in several areas of the state and uranium mining, as well as veterans’ issues and public education, as topics that surmount political party affiliations.

“There is nothing wrong with disagreement,” Cox said, adding that robust discussions have to be held in an atmosphere of respect.

Cox and Surovell encouraged young people to consider public service. They urged students to hone their debate skills while in college in order to improve their articulation of ideas and to test the strength of their core values.

Caitlyn Read, director of state government relations at JMU, and senior Honors College student Ashley Harris, president of the nationally ranked JMU Debate Team, moderated the discussion. JMU President Jonathan R. Alger delivered opening and closing remarks, including extending Veterans Day thanks to military veterans for their service. Cox and Surovell joined Alger in expressing gratitude.

The event was presented by the Madison Vision Series: Contemporary Issues in an Engaged Society, which honors James Madison’s conviction that cultivating an informed and educated citizenry is essential to the health of our republican democracy. The series brings scholars, thinkers and leaders of all kinds to campus for lively explorations of issues facing our society.

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Published: Thursday, November 12, 2020

Last Updated: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

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