Macy Pressley, Contributing Writer
Concern for her children brought VCU graduate Sheila Bynum-Coleman to leave her career as a realtor to pursue politics. Now, she’s running against the Republican House Speaker.
“I started running for office because my son has a learning disability and I wasn’t able to get him what he needed,” Bynum-Coleman said. “I went to my delegate and asked for a 15 minute meeting, he said no. That prompted me to run against him. Then, in 2016, my daughter was shot. So, I ran again.”
Her opponent, current House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1990. He served as majority whip from 2004-2010, before being elected speaker in 2018.
Cox has won most of his elections with ease. From 1997 to 2015, he ran entirely unopposed. This year, every seat in the Virginia House of Delegates is up for election, and Republicans hold a slim majority.
The U.S. District Court imposed a redrawn congressional map after ruling that the state’s previous districts were gerrymandered. The 66th District, and 10 other districts in Virginia, was affected, and was redrawn to include more democratic voters.
Bynum-Coleman has run for the House of Delegates twice before, and was narrowly defeated in a heavily conservative district. Campaigning on criminal justice reform and higher teacher pay, she said she can relate to even conservative voters.
“Even when I ran in a district that was very Republican, the issues were still there,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, people still want to make sure the teachers are paid, they want to see an increase in the minimum wage.”
Bynum-Coleman has taken a pledge to not take money from Dominion Energy, the biggest lobbying force in the state. She said if elected, her signature issue would be getting lobbying money out of politics.
She is a champion for gun safety laws, as well as women’s rights initiatives such as the Equal Rights Amendment. She is strongly opposed to offshore drilling and wants to push Virginia toward a carbon-neutral economy.
“Even though these might seem like partisan issues, they’re really not, ‘cause people want the same basic rights,” she added.
Bynum-Coleman also credited her alma mater, VCU, for spurring her interest in politics and teaching her to stand up for herself.
“I think VCU has such a culture of togetherness and doing what’s right,” Bynum-Coleman said. “When I was in school, there were so many people who stood up for what was right, even when it didn’t affect them.”
Bynum-Colman recalled going to a speaker series on issues transgender people face. The audience was engaged, she said, and asked a lot of questions. She says exposure to diversity made her the candidate she is today.
“I studied political science at VCU, I learned about politics,” she said. “I also learned about doing what’s right, and in the General Assembly, we need more people to do that,” she said.
Elections for the Virginia House of Delegates race will be held Nov. 5 and polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.