As we announced last week, Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Fredericksburg) agreed to an exclusive blog interview with us. We submitted questions Thursday, he returned them Friday. They now are posted below. A solid conservative, Delegate Cole plays an important leadership role in the House of Delegates as chairman of the Privileges and Elections Committee. We cover a lot of ground in a short period and get his key insights on several important topics — everything from the resignation of former College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol (see Washington Post) and leftism on college campuses, to locking up transportation funds from budget raiders.

We are fortunate and thankful to Delegate Cole for taking time out of his busy schedule to respond to our questions. His answers are substantive and interesting. We hope you enjoy reading it. Let us know what you think with your comments.

Here is the interview in its entirety:

familyfoundation.org: Delegate Cole, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview. We very much look forward to getting your views on a few key issues that have come up this year.

First, you became chairman of the House Privileges and Elections Committee this year. What was it like? How does being a committee chairman change your workload and even your perspective of your work in the House of Delegates?

Delegate Mark Cole: Being a committee chairman certainly increases your workload, especially early in the session when we get a flood of new bills to deal with. Instead of just worrying about your own bills, you have to screen all the bills assigned to your committee, assign them to sub-committees and then make sure they get an appropriate hearing.  This year the Privileges and Elections Committee dealt with more than 120 bills and resolutions, including confirming many gubernatorial appointments to important boards and commissions.

familyfoundation.org: Speaking of P&E, you and the committee made the news regarding the controversy over now-former College of William and Mary President Gene Nichol. Can you give us your thoughts on that entire situation?

Delegate Cole: I and many other Delegates had received numerous complaints from constituents and William and Mary alumni about things that were going on at the college. It seemed to start a few years ago with the Wren Cross controversy, then there was the speech code issue, and it continued through this year with the Sex Workers Show. These controversies were having a detrimental impact on the college's mission and even their fundraising. So we decided to invite four Board of Visitor appointees to Richmond for confirmation hearings. This gave members of the committee the opportunity to express their concerns about these issues and to hear from the appointees first hand. While it was an unusual step, I think it was worthwhile and certainly within the purview of the General Assembly. Based on the answers we received during the hearing, I am hopeful that the Board of Visitors understands our concerns and will do their best to address them.

familyfoundation.org: In general, why do you think higher education (both faculty and administration) is dominated by the left? Do you see Mr. Nichol's administration as an aberration in Virginia, or do our colleges and universities have the same problem, though perhaps less visible. If so, what are the affects of this on our future with children getting this type of education?

Delegate Cole: No question that faculty and administration of most of our colleges and universities tend to be to the left of the average Virginia citizen. That's not to say that all are or that there aren't many good highly qualified individuals on staff, but the majority tend to be politically and socially liberal. I believe this can influence the course of instruction and the views and attitudes of students. It may not be a decisive influence, but I believe it does have an impact. I would like to see our colleges make a concerted effort to achieve a more ideologically diverse faculty to ensure that all sides of issues are presented and that no one political view dominates the campus or course of instruction.

familyfoundation.org: Transportation again is in the news with the Supreme Court recently ruling the regional transportation authorities unconstitutional. However, another problem not as widely criticized is the governor (and his allies) trying to move funds designated for transportation to cover general fund expenses. Should transportation money be locked into a dedicated transportation-only fund by constitutional amendment? Will your committee continue to visit this issue as it has in the past? What can be done to get this idea out of the General Assembly and to the voters for ratification?

Delegate Cole: I have supported an amendment to the state constitution to protect transportation funds in the past, and plan to do so in the future. With the serious traffic problems we have in my district, Northern Virginia, and Hampton Roads, the governor's proposal to use transportation money to fund new programs makes no sense. Thinking like that in the past has helped get us into the mess that we are in now. I am confident that we will be able to get an amendment out of the House next year, but historically it has always had a hard time making it out of the Senate. It appears that many in the Senate still view the Transportation Trust Fund as a piggy bank to be used to fund other programs whenever the General Fund gets tight. In addition to protecting transportation funds, I think we should reallocate some of our current revenues to transportation to increase funding in congested areas while also streamlining our transportation processes.  It just takes way to long for VDOT to make decisions and do preliminary engineering for road projects. While not all of that is VDOT's fault, it simply takes too long for a project to go from the drawing board to construction and completion.

familyfoundation.org: You also serve on the Education Committee. As far as saving money and re-prioritizing, what do you think about reformulating the Standards of Quality for education to a student-based, more efficient education funding system? Will that ever be possible and is there any movement in that direction now?

Delegate Cole: Each year we significantly increase state funding for education, yet we seem to keep falling farther behind. Many schools are still overcrowded, teacher salaries lag, and often teachers have to reach into their own pockets to buy classroom supplies.  Considering the amount of money we spend on education, we should be seeing better results. Too much of the money is being siphoned off by the education bureaucracy before it makes it to the classroom or the teachers. We need to develop a bottom-up funding strategy for education instead of a top-down. Our first funding priority should be the classroom. We should ensure that our classrooms have all the resources and supplies they need to teach our children.

familyfoundation.org: With the senate gone to the Democrats and the House Republicans losing seats, a lot of people think the GOP is in retreat. How do you see the future for conservatism in Virginia and in getting more conservatives elected to the General Assembly? Is a grand vision of reform across all areas (transportation, SOQs, education choice, taxpayer bill of rights, budgeting, etc.) required to inspire voters to welcome the conservative message?

Delegate Cole: As a Party, Republicans at both the state and national level seem to have lost their way. In many cases we did not deliver the conservative reforms, to decrease the size of government and lower taxes, promised during campaigns and voters have become disillusioned with the Party. This has caused us to lose seats and once that happens a defensive mindset tends to develop that just makes things worse. What we need to do is break out of that mindset, grab the initiative and resume the offensive by adopting and advancing a conservative agenda. We may not be able to get it implemented since we have to deal with a liberal Senate and Governor, but we need to put it forward to give our grassroots a vision and goal to work towards. I am hopeful that the loss of Congress at the national level and the loss of the state Senate here in Virginia will serve as a wake-up call for the Party. When we advance conservative ideas we do well; when we don't we lose.

familyfoundation.org: Delegate Cole, thanks again for participating in this blog interview. On behalf of The Family Foundation, we greatly appreciate your time, your good work, and look forward to seeing your leadership in the House for many more sessions to come.