RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Virginia Republicans pick their candidate for the 2021 gubernatorial election May 8 and while the party has a decade of losses under its belt, nominees are hoping issues like race and public education will return them to power.
“Critical race theory [CRT] fundamentally says the country is broken,” said State Delegate Kirk Cox, a 30-year veteran of Virginia’s House of Delegates. His tenure makes him the party’s most “establishment” candidate, but he’s tried to distance himself from the “career politician” moniker and last week he hit the controversial race issue hard.
“It pits once race against another,” he said of the academic effort to examine the intersection of race and the law, which has since been elevated as a conservative talking point.
But Cox’s effort is deeper than just Virginia. On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and a handful of other Republicans sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking him to nix any plans to add such content to public schools.
“Americans do not need or want their tax dollars diverted from promoting the principles that unite our nation toward promoting radical ideologies meant to divide us,” he said.
Republicans took up the fight against the idea after the New York Times offered a version of their 1619 project to public schools, and they’ve since determined it's a philosophy that imagines public school and colleges as hotbeds for radicalizing America's youth in favor of communism, socialism and other policies they disagree with.
“The founding documents made great principals; life, liberty, and property and protecting those rights. I don’t think in CRT they see those as important,” Cox said.
The same concern over CRT was lobbed by state Senator Amanda Chase, a GOP candidate whose district includes suburbs to the south of Richmond.
“It teaches the opposite of what we should be teaching: the golden rule, treating others the way we want to be treated,” said the senator who's never been one to shy away from controversy.
To that end she’s accused Virginia Democrats of racism after they criticized missteps by a white Richmond elections registrar and said more recently the conviction of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd made her “sick” and only happened because the jury feared violent reprisal.
“We shouldn’t be revising our history and only telling the parts we’re comfortable with,” she said of her concerns about CRT being taught in public schools before searching online for examples of it occurring in Virginia.
“There’s plenty of examples out there,” she said, turning to another talking point shared by some of her competitors: a viral story suggesting the state is removing advanced placement classes to satisfy cries from the left.
“The Democrats have no confidence that kids can achieve at higher levels,” Cox, a longtime government teacher in a local public school, said of proposed changes to schools’ advanced placement programs. “Are we telling kids they’re not smart enough?”
The advanced placement rollback story originated with a Fox News report but additional reporting from the Virginia Mercury found the Virginia Department of Education has yet to receive any proposals stating to do as much, though they are considering efforts undertaken in other states which would alter their Standards of Learning tests.
No matter the reality, other candidates, like military veteran Sergio de la Peña, see an enemy in the public school system.
“This is what happens when you have socialists taking over our government and they are experimenting with all these bad ideas,” said de la Peña at a candidate debate earlier in the year.