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Has VA’s Attorney General gone too far?

There are times, given all the effort that Mr. Cucinelli puts into playing politics, when
I wonder when he has time to be Attorney General.

Virginia Attorneys General have historically been a reserved and thoughtful bunch.  Names, now all but lost to history, Andrew Miller, Marshall Coleman, Gerald Baliles, Mary Sue Terry and Jerry Kilgore, were, first and foremost, lawyers.  The Attorney General’s Office employs more than 70 lawyers.  If it were a private firm it would be one of the largest in the state.  The Attorney General deals with almost every conceivable legal issue from criminal law, to maritime issues, and land use. The office generates hundreds of opinions each year to help the governor, the executive branch and the legislature do their jobs.  And that only captures a fraction of what Virginia’s number one lawyer does each day.  That’s why it’s not surprising that even though they are usually viewed as likely candidates for governor that they also tend to shy away from the spotlight.  Also, because they serve such a visibly public function, even though they may be fiercely Republican or Democrat, they have, historically tried to do their jobs in an even-handed fashion.

However, Ken Cucinelli, Virginia’s current Attorney General doesn’t view his job that way.  During his nearly four years in office he has been one of the most partisan Attorneys General the commonwealth has ever known.  Cucinelli has a base in the Republican Party, a strong following of red meat conservatives, and he never seems to miss a chance to stir the pot.

Shortly after his election the new Attorney General decided to conduct an investigation of a University of Virginia professor who was conducting research on global warming.  The UVA work supported the theory that the climate was changing and that humankind was at least a partial contributor to that change. 

Cucinelli, like many on the right (though this number has declined in years since) doubted these claims, and since the professor was working at a state university, thought the Attorney General’s office had a right to see his data.  The implication was that the professor was cooking the books.  The legal wrangling that followed was expensive and time consuming.  And it didn’t prove a thing.  But, the Attorney General did manage to get a lot of national attentions for his antics.     

Another political adventure was the Attorney General’s foray into Obamacare.  Like most Republicans, he wasn’t fond of it, but using the power of his office, he took his opposition one step further and filed suit against implementation of the legislation. In this case, he wasn’t outside of his jurisdiction, Obamacare will impact Virginia, but it was a federal issue and it’s questionable whether Cuccinelli’s lawsuit, paid for by our tax money, was even called for. But, it achieved its primary goal and that was to help raise the Attorney General’s profile.

Now, playing to the same core group in the GOP he is openly questioning the recent compromise transportation bill that was just passed in Richmond.  It was, by far, some of the best legislating to come out of the Capitol in years.  However, Mr. Cucinelli doesn’t see it that way.  Anxious to please the Tea Party wing of his party he is doing something most attorneys general never do and that’s trying to openly influence legislation that’s been passed and is waiting for the governor’s signature. He says it’s just another tax increase and whether it breaks the logjam over transportation funding or not, he’s opposed to it.

There are times, given all the effort that Mr. Cucinelli puts into playing politics, when I wonder when he has time to be Attorney General.  But, at this point, now that he has the GOP nomination wrapped up, perhaps it doesn’t matter.  This is just another act in the long running comedy that has so characterized Ken Cuccinelli’s term in office.

However, there is another consideration, perhaps a fatal mistake, and it has to do with practical politics.  Cucinelli already has the Republican nomination for Governor.  So, what is to be gained by opposing the transportation bill?  Even some stalwart anti-taxers, members of the Tea Party, don’t necessarily see it as a “bad” tax increase.  So, what does Cucinelli expect to gain?  

Perhaps, this time his passion for the limelight has gone a step too far.  By opposing the transportation plan so vehemently he risks alienating the very people he needs to win.  He has already ticked off many leading Republicans in Legislature who did the hard work of negotiating the compromise, but now, by rejecting the transportation bill, he is at risk of losing the support of the business community.  The Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street crowd usually support Republicans.  It’s a natural alliance. But, maybe, thanks to this misguided action, rather than supporting the Republican candidate, they’ll now start to give the Democratic candidate to be, Terry McAuliffe a closer look. McAuliffe is a savvy business oriented Democrat.  However, there is an even bigger group at stake and that’s the thousands of people who have grown weary of nightmare traffic jams and potholes.  If he hasn’t already alienated them through some of his earlier antics, knowing where he stands on the first decent transportation bill in decades might just do the trick.
Reach David Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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