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2018-01-03 / Front Page

Speaker-designee Kirk Cox: House Dems trying to ‘run out the clock’

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER

Republican Del. Kirk Cox Republican Del. Kirk Cox With the start of another General Assembly session looming, the leader of the House Republican Caucus claimed Democrats are intentionally delaying a resolution to the deadlocked 94th District election as a “negotiating ploy.”

In a conference call with reporters last Friday, Speaker-designee Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, suggested that recent legal maneuvers by Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds will make it very difficult for the 94th District’s “rightful representative” to be seated in the House of Delegates when the 2018 session begins Jan. 10.

“They’re trying to run out the clock,” Cox said, calling it a “deliberate strategy” by the Democrats to leave that seat open for the time being and prevent House GOP leaders from conducting typical first-week organizational business.

Cox, whose district includes Chesterfield, didn’t elaborate or explain how the Democrats stand to benefit from remaining in the minority.

“We can speculate about how that strategy would work. But it’s clear they think they’ll have more leverage on opening day if there is no resolution [to the 94th District race],” he added. Once considered all but a done deal, Cox’s ascension to the top leadership position in the House of Delegates has been far more tenuous since Nov. 7 – when Democrats flipped 15 seats in a stunning “wave election” and threatened to seize control of the chamber for the first time in 17 years.

Following a recount, the 94th District election between Republican incumbent Del. David Yancey and challenger Simonds was declared a tie, with both candidates receiving 11,608 votes.

The State Board of Elections was scheduled to convene last Wednesday and conduct a draw to determine the winner, but delayed that meeting after Simonds’ campaign filed a motion in Newport News Circuit Court asking a three-judge panel to reconsider its certification of the recount results.

Simonds’ attorneys claim the judges erred in counting a disputed ballot for Yancey after the conclusion of the recount. That ballot turned Simonds’ apparent one-vote victory into a deadlock and allowed Republicans to maintain their 50-49 lead, pending the outcome of the tiebreaking draw. A photo of the ballot has been circulated on social media, showing the voter filled in bubbles for both Yancey and Simonds, then put a line through the Simonds bubble.

After evaluating the ballot, which contained votes for Republicans in several other races, the judges concluded the voter intended to select Yancey.

Simonds appeared on both CNN and MSNBC last week, claiming Yancey’s campaign had violated recount rules.

“I won the recount fair and square and I played by the rules,” she told host Steve Kornacki on the MSNBC political show “Hardball.” “The rules in Virginia for recounts are very clear, but my opponent made an end run around those rules.”

Yancey’s attorneys filed a motion in Newport News Circuit Court last Friday morning opposing Simonds’ request for reconsideration by the three-judge panel.

During Friday’s teleconference, attorney Mark Braden with the firm Baker Hostetler said Virginia’s election recount statutes are “pretty clear” and Simonds had presented no new evidence that the judges erred in certifying the race as a tie.

“It’s difficult to understand this being a legal motion rather than some type of delaying tactic,” Braden added. The three judges who oversaw the 94th District recount – including David Johnson, a Chesterfield Circuit Court judge – had given no indication as of last Friday about whether they intend to consider Simonds’ request.

Their decision directly impacts the State Board of Elections, which is waiting to see if the contested ballot gets thrown out before conducting a tiebreaking draw.

The board’s chairman, James Alcorn, issued a statement Dec. 26 in which he said drawing names to decide an election is “an action of last resort.”

Attorneys representing the House Republican Caucus sent a letter to the board on Friday, claiming that according to Virginia law, such a draw is “the only resort” to resolve the deadlock between Yancey and Simonds.

Alcorn said Friday afternoon that “unless the legal system intervenes,” the State Board of Elections will draw a winner of the 94th District race Jan. 4 at 11 a.m.

The loser of the draw can then request a recount, potentially starting the process over again. ¦

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