Story by Chris Graham
David Cox had thought that he would be running for what would essentially be an open seat in the 24th Senate District.
Things didn’t work out the way Cox and many in the punditry had thought – but the Democratic Party nominee still sees an opening.
“Although they’re making nice on one level, this is a very divisive battle that they’ve waged – it was a civil war, and civil wars are often the bloodiest of all,” said Cox of last week’s Republican Party primary in the 24th, which saw moderate-conservative incumbent Emmett Hanger emerge victorious over conservative challenger Scott Sayre by a relatively narrow 865-vote margin.
“This poses an unpredecented opportunity for Democrats to continue to advance in Virginia – as we have been doing over the past several elections,” said Cox, who was selected as the Democratic nominee at a party mass meeting last month, in an interview for this week’s “New Dominion” Internet talk show.
It had looked at that point that the race was Sayre’s to lose – and if Sayre had won, it would have seemed that Cox would have had something of a shot in November, given the stark contrast that he would have offered voters to the Sayre campaign. The differences between Cox and Hanger are much more nuanced – particularly on the tax and spending issues that Sayre made the centerpiece of his campaign.
“The commonsense conservative position is one that holds all options open – so that one can respond as appropriate considering what the needs and concerns are,” Cox said. “Nobody likes to raise taxes – I certainly don’t advocate that. On the other hand, it’s simply foolish to tie hands philosophically or ideologically – so that if circumstances are such that when that is the prudent thing to do, then that’s what we need to be able to do.”
Cox agrees with Hanger that there is a “need to continue with tax reform,” a political effort that Hanger spearheaded in 2004 with the bipartisan support of several legislators and former governor Mark Warner.
“I looked upon the 2004 package as one that truly did benefit a lot – I would say most of us people, particularly those of us who needed it most,” Cox said. “The burden was shifted away from sales taxes on food, for example – that was eliminated on the state level. And although there were other increases, in the end most of our people ended up faring better, in my opinion – particularly in this area, and again particularly those who most needed it.”
One area where Cox and Hanger differ is on improvements to Interstate 81. While both agree with the recent moves of the Commonwealth Transportation Board to go with a scaled-back improvement plan, the two disagree on the specifics of that plan, including the possible use of tolls to provide financing that Hanger has said should be on the table.
“I continue to hold a lot of reservations about what is being proposed,” Cox said. “I do believe that the ultimate best interests of Virginia would be served in some version of the rail solution – and I’m so glad that Norfolk Southern is showing interest in that. That would get trucks off of 81 that are going from one end of the state to the other and on to railroad tracks – and that will really help, I think, environmentally and in terms of traffic and every other way.
“I’m very concerned about tolls as well – and the kind of pressure that they will put, not only economically, but also by diverting traffic off of 81 onto Route 11 and Route 29 and some of the backroads that simply weren’t built to handle that kind of traffic,” Cox said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.