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Look who’s grabbing headlines in Richmond

There is a rare phenomena taking place in Richmond.  Usually, it’s the governor who gets all the attention during the first year of an administration while the lieutenant governor and attorney general are all but ignored.  
Indeed, for a moment, before writing this article it took me a moment to remember the name of our lieutenant governor. He operates just that far below the radar.  However, when it comes to the attorney general, I have no such problems.
 It’s Ken Cuccinelli.
During the first part of this administration, while our governor has been doing the hard work of governing, and going out of his way to just stay focused on the job, our attorney general has been out grabbing all the headlines.  

And he’s really good at it.  
However, that’s by no means a criticism of Bob McDonnell.  He has put his energy into the budget, state government issues, and jobs. He did give the Republican response to the president’s State of the Union message, but it was hardly what you would call a firebrand speech.  It was reasoned and thoughtful.  Oh, and he’s also expressed his delight about the opening of drilling rights off the Virginia Coast.  That, by the way, is an initiative proposed by a Democratic president.  But otherwise, he hasn’t been doing much to grab the headlines.  He is just trying to run the state.  Perhaps, McDonnell, as he promised, really is trying to govern from the center.  
So, to the press, dare I say, the new governor is a bit of a disappointment.  No outrageous statements, no corner office at the executive office building for Pat Robertson, and a generally friendly attitude towards all the political players in Richmond.  
But, fortunately, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has provided plenty of fodder for headlines and editorials.  Thank goodness.   Of course, it’s doubtful this is really a part of his job description.  The attorney general usually, just because he is so busy, doesn’t have much time for headline grabbing, but not so with Ken Cuccinelli. He has proven a master of the art.
Almost the second he got into office Cuccinelli decided he needed to issue an incendiary opinion saying that our state colleges and universities have no authority to prohibit discrimination against people based on their sexual preference.  Boy did that get his name in the press.  Frankly, I thought that issue had been settled a long time ago.  Most Republicans and Democrats, as a rule, oppose discrimination at any level.  But Cuccinelli, anxious to grab some publicity, made a stink about it.  He said state universities can only grant protection to gays if the legislature gives them that authority.  He may be right, but whether this issue, at this time, trumped every other criminal and regulatory concern facing the state is a big question.  
But, just as soon as that issue started to cool, the health care bill came along, and smelling an opportunity to stay in the headlines the attorney general has decided that Virginia needs to challenge the legislation.  Cuccinelli, to no one’s surprise, adamantly opposes the new health care initiative and he’s going to argue that the government has no authority to require Virginians to buy health care.  Maybe this is something he feels he just has to do, but since many other state attorney generals are filing suit, I have to ask, why doesn’t he just let them sort out, and put his attorneys on some other job?  It’s not like the attorney general’s office has nothing else to do.  But don’t offer that argument to Cuccinelli.  He’s not listening.
Cuccinelli has never shied away from headlines — the more incendiary the better.  Also, make no mistake, just like every attorney general before him he has his eyes on the governor’s mansion and he knows the first thing he has to do is get the Republican nomination.  And to do that he needs the hard and fast support of the party’s most conservative wing.  Moderates, as a rule, don’t pick a party’s nominees.  It’s the true believers that make the choice and Cuccinelli knows what issues get the Republican base excited.
I think it’s fair to say, that this is a talent he perfected in the state senate and one that’s going to keep him in the papers for the entire remainder of his tenure as attorney general.  So, from those of us who write about such things, I want to offer the attorney general my profound thanks.  Without him, given that the governor is focused, well, on governing, things would be awfully dull.
You may reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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