RICHMOND, Va. – Republican delegates on Wednesday are expected to designate Majority Leader Kirk Cox as the next speaker of the House, following William Howell’s decision to retire.
Republican House members will caucus to select Cox, a retired government teacher from Colonial Heights, as the speaker-in-waiting, according to reports published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post and other news outlets.
Cox, 59, will succeed Howell, a Republican from Stafford, who announced that he will not seek re-election this fall to the 28th House District seat that he has held since 1988. Next January, Howell will conclude his term as the 54th speaker of the House of Delegates.
Cox has served in the House of Delegates since 1989 and has run unopposed in the past eight House elections. He is a resident of the 66th House District, which includes the city of Colonial Heights and part of Chesterfield County.
A graduate of Colonial Heights High School, Cox earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and general social science from James Madison University in 1979. He then taught government for 30 years.
Cox lives in Colonial Heights with his wife, Julie Kirkendall Cox. They have four sons.
In his role as majority leader, Cox serves on the House Appropriations Committee and on the conference committee that will help negotiate the state budget with his counterparts from the Senate.
Cox also serves with other senior lawmakers on the House Rules Committee and is a member of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.
As speaker, Cox would replace Howell, who was lauded this week by both Republicans and Democrats for his dedication to public service. Howell has served as speaker since 2003.
The Senate majority leader, Sen. Thomas Norment of James City, issued a congratulatory statement calling Howell’s retirement “well-deserved.”
“Speaker Howell’s legacy of accomplishment is extraordinary, as he repeatedly demonstrated his commitment to conservative principles and reform,” Norment said. “On behalf of the entire Senate Republican Caucus, I wish the speaker, Mrs. Howell and their entire family a blessed and prosperous future.”
House Democrats also expressed their respect for Howell.
“Having dedicated the last three decades of his life to the Virginia House of Delegates, Speaker Howell is truly a historic figure in this chamber,” said Katie Baker, the communications director of the House Democratic Caucus. “He has always valued and worked to preserve the integrity of the body.”
In a statement released Monday, Howell thanked his colleagues for almost 30 years of service, describing the House of Delegates as a truly historic institution that he loves dearly.
“I believe [the House] represents the hope, enduring strength and resiliency of our exciting and ongoing experiment in representative self-government,” Howell said.
After retirement, Howell plans to spend his free time with his wife, Cecelia, and their family.
“We are blessed to have two good sons and seven energetic grandkids,” Howell said. “We have our youth. And we cannot wait to take some time together to travel, spend more time with our family and, frankly, just to relax together.”
Delegates offered tributes to Howell in speeches on the House floor. Cox himself said he was “honored to serve with one of the all-time greats.”
Cox declined to comment on speculation that he was in line to replace Howell. “This is the speaker’s day,” he told the Times-Dispatch.
All 100 House seats are up for election this fall. The new speaker would be officially chosen in early 2018. The choice will rest with the Republicans, who currently hold 66 House seats to the Democrats’ 34.
Cox may be well positioned to help Republican candidates in this year’s elections. In his own campaign treasury, he has nearly $400,000, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. In addition, Cox has a political action committee called the Majority Leader PAC with a balance of about $60,000. This money would be available to help House Republican candidates who may be facing Democratic opponents in upcoming elections.
By Haley Winn with Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.