by Benjamin Litchfield
Bottom Line, Up Front: Del. Mark Cole (R-HD88) is an extreme pro-life social conservative with a track record of killing all progressive legislation advancing civil rights, protecting the environment, and honoring choice.
On Friday, in a packed room at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Democratic HD88 nominee Jess Foster faced off against far-right-wing Republican, ERA-killer Del. Mark Cole (see video, below). The audience was overwhelmingly supportive of Foster – but respectful, even when Mark Cole tried to lie about his positions to appeal to more moderate voters tired of his Trumpist extremism. Of course, that didn’t stop the Spotsylvania County Republican Committee from calling Foster’s supporters Antifa and fearmongering to try to get their dwindling membership to attend the debate (more on that here). Here are some highlights from the debate:
- Mark Cole waffled on whether to establish a Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) despite the clear and persistent transportation issues faced by the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania-Stafford region. In 2017, the Washington Post wrote a story about how motorists lose an average of 33 minutes in backups between Fairfax County Parkway and Exit 133 in Fredericksburg. Over the next decade, these delays are slated to cost motorists $2.3 billion in wasted time, lost fuel, and additional carbon emissions.
- On the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), Mark Cole refenced a hand-out that debate moderators puzzlingly allowed him to distribute before the event. The flyer isn’t exactly riveting reading – it repeats standard Republican (false) talking points about the ERA and tries to explain away why Mark Cole has voted against the ERA for 11 years, despite its clear support in the General Assembly and overwhelming support among average Virginians (a Wason Center for Public Policy poll from Christopher Newport University found in December that 81 percent of Virginia voters support ERA ratification). Foster, on the other hand, strongly supports the ERA and suggested the real reason Mark Cole opposes it is because he doesn’t support women’s equality.
- On establishing an independent redistricting commission, Mark Cole tried to scare voters by telling them that once the Democrats sweep the General Assembly, they will oppose any efforts to combat gerrymandering. His bottom line: if you want gerrymandering reform, vote Republican. This is utterly laughable, given that Republican General Assembly recently suffered a massive defeat at the Supreme Court over district lines they drew in 2011 that created 11 unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Foster pointed out that she supports an independent redistricting commission but does not support Mark Cole’s bill because his proposal has no teeth (“this is a very revised and gutted version…”).
- On a woman’s right to choose, Mark Cole made incredibly vague remarks that suggest he supports abortion up to a point, while arguing that the state has a role to play in protecting the life of an unborn child. This is strange, considering that Mark Cole is previously on record stating that he’s a staunch opponent of abortion, even in the case of child rape victims. Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper debate without a Republican – in this case Mark Cole – throwing in their ridiculous Kathy Tran/Ralph Northam talking points in order to lie about where Democrats stand on choice. Foster said that she trusts women to make these hard decisions without meddling from men in Richmond.
- On LBGTQ equality, Mark Cole kept repeating that he’s pro-equality. Considering that Cole championed transphobic bathroom bills in the General Assembly, that claim gets a bottomless pit of Pinocchios. In fact, folks in the Stafford County community are well aware of Mark Cole’s anti-LGBTQ animus and have fought long and hard to protect the LGBTQ families that Cole and his far-right social conservative buddies have sought to discriminate against. Foster, on the other hand, supports equality and has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Stafford families fighting to adopt protections for LGBTQ educators and students in Stafford County Public Schools.
- On protecting our children from mass shootings, Mark Cole repeated his pro-guns pablum, while Foster forcefully argued for common-sense protections like red flag laws and universal background checks. Foster also took us back to 1L Constitutional Law class, with a nice discussion of due process (note: no one can just “snatch” guns away from peope; there are multiple layers of review to protect fundamental rights like the right to bear arms. “Snatching your guns” is just Republican fear-mongering to scare people into voting for policies that hurt working Virginians).
- On the environment, Mark Cole repeated Trump’s bizarre obsession with China to explain away the United States’ abject failure to combat the growing global climate crisis. Foster strongly supports efforts at the local, state, federal, and international level to combat climate change. She reminds us that the climate crisis is not just about us but about future generations and what kind of world we are sending them into by failing to act when they need us the most.
Anyway, you get the idea – Mark Cole opposes all efforts to advance progressive civil rights, environmental justice, or women’s equality legislation. His platform is dull, lifeless and harmful to your health…like a lump of coal – oppose, oppose, oppose. Jess Foster, on the other hand, planted her flag at the debate as a strong, progressive voice for women, families, and the LGBTQ community. She shines bright like a diamond. On November 5, every voter in the HD88 should #FosterChange!