When U.S. House Representative TJ Cox P’19 began his talk at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, he knew he would have until 11:45 a.m. to speak in order to make it to a House vote in Washington that evening. In an event titled “Building a New House in Congress,” Cox spoke about his experience in his first Congressional term.
At the event sponsored by the Center for the Study of American Democracy (CSAD), Cox started by talking about why he wanted to run for office and his experience campaigning in his district.
“The duty is very simple — to get out there and speak to the people and serve the people,” he said. “One of the reasons why I’m so excited about being in this position is to really show people that their votes do matter … We really made a considerate effort to knock on every door to pull out people that had never voted before.”
The district Cox represents, which he described as the “Appalachia of the West,” is a largely rural area previously represented by the Republican party. He noted that he faced difficulties as a Democratic candidate fundraising for his campaign, but this pushed him to talk to voters more directly, which he said was an important part of his victory.
Cox represents California’s 21st congressional district. He won this seat against three-term Republican Representative David Valadao, helping the Democratic party gain seven more House seats in California and 40 nationwide.
Cox’s victory was announced three weeks after Election Day in what was the country’s longest undecided congressional contest of 2018. Only several hundred votes, less than 10 percent of the total votes cast, determined the winning candidate.
“When you have volunteers who are going door to door and they spend an hour with somebody and that somebody gets themselves votes and gets their family members to vote, it really makes a difference, you can have a direct hand in that victory,” he said. “It wasn’t just some big media campaign; it was a real grassroots effort.”
In response to the question of what students can do to help create change in society, Cox said the answer was simple: “Know that your voice and your efforts matter, you really can make a difference and you have seen it in so many races,” he said.
He also noted that serving as an elected representative does not strictly require a political background, but is rather for people “who just want to stand up and be the voice of their community.”
With this year’s elections specifically, Cox noted how Congress has changed, with the average age of the Democratic caucus decreasing by 10 years, and stressed the importance of including diverse perspectives.
“It’s very youthful and dynamic and it’s going to put focus on the things that we all know that we need in the future,” he said. “It’s really is the face of America when you look around and it’s a beautiful face, and it’s not diversity for the sake of diversity itself, it’s these rich experiences that people bring from their backgrounds and from the people that they represent.”
Following the talk, Cox went to Peirce Dining Hall to have lunch with a group of students and then returned to D.C. to continue his work serving his constituents.