- Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 February 2012 00:00
- Published on Wednesday, 01 February 2012 00:00
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Waiting your turn is important. We teach that lesson to our children, and most of us practice it every day. We wait in line at the supermarket, sit patiently in our cars at the McDonald’s drive through, and read whatever magazine is available in the doctor’s waiting room as we wait for our appointment. However, when it comes to picking a nominee for governor, particularly when one party holds both of the down ticket jobs; Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, this age old courtesy is often tested to its limits.
Both parties, as a rule, particularly when they already have the reins of power, try to avoid heated fights for the nomination. They like to see a smooth handoff from the Governor to the
party’s nominee to succeed the incumbent. Contests between an Attorney General and a Lieutenant Governor of the same party can get ugly. That’s why, in years past, a tradition has emerged, very Virginia in character, of gentleman’s agreements where one or the other, the Attorney General, or the Lieutenant Governor, waits their turn, with one running for reelection, while the other runs for governor. Don Beyer, a Democrat, did this back in 1993 when he let Attorney General Mary Sue Terry go for the top job while he ran for reelection for Lieutenant Governor. During the election before that, Terry, then Attorney General, ran for reelection so that then Lieutenant Governor Doug Wilder could run for Governor. It was a cozy series of arrangements.
For years, it seemed to be a Democratic Party practice, but in 2009 the Republicans began to do the same thing. Bob McDonnell, the Attorney General and Bill Bolling the Lieutenant Governor both wanted to run for governor, but very quickly, Bolling decided to bide his time, run for reelection and let McDonnell have his turn. Naturally of course, the expectation, whether formally agreed upon or not, was that Bolling, come 2013, would get his turn and be unopposed for the nomination. That’s certainly what Bolling and Governor McDonnell were planning on. However, that’s not the way it’s working out. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, someone not in on the original understanding, has decided to buck this carefully choreographed succession plan and is challenging Bolling for the nomination.
Bolling, outraged that someone would disrupt this smooth transfer of power, issued a press release expressing shock and dismay at Cuccinelli’s announcement. However, Cuccinelli’s decision shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. The Attorney General is impatient by nature. He doesn’t mind upsetting the establishment in Richmond, Republican or Democrat, is delighted when he is lambasted by the Washington Post, and seems to pick up even more steam when the Democrats cry foul at his latest escapades. So far, during his term, he has accused the University of Virginia of phonying up its research on climate change and has gone to court to challenge the President’s health care plan. This and other rulings and opinions, on everything from abortion to gay rights, has delighted the party’s conservative base.
Of course, going back a few years, it’s true that Cucinelli had originally indicated that he might follow the pattern of the gentleman’s agreement, run for reelection, and save his gubernatorial ambitions for 2017. He also indicated an interest in challenging Mark Warner for the Senate in 2014. But, after some thought, he decided he didn’t like either option. He wasn’t interested in doing what the establishment Republicans wanted him to do, and so, a few weeks ago, he tossed his hat in the ring for the GOP nomination. Bolling, of course, is livid, and Governor McDonnell has made it clear, that Bolling is his man.
However, while Bolling, the establishment choice, might have an edge, particularly with the Governor’s support, Cucinelli is well known, a darling among conservatives, and with his vigorous use of his office, however controversial, has managed to stay in the news. Bolling, on the other hand, while an outspoken conservative in the State Senate before being elected Lieutenant Governor, has, for most of the past seven years, been surprisingly quiet. While his opponent has been out fighting for this conservative cause or that, Bolling, has been an almost silent figure in the Capitol. Nonetheless, Bolling has a following. He is a loyal Republican, and has repeatedly hit the circuit for Republicans running for everything from county supervisor to the state senate. That’s gotten him a lot of exposure as well as a pocket full of IOU’s from Republicans who are grateful for his help. But, even then, Cucinelli, in some of the most recent polling, is either even with the Lieutenant Governor or slightly ahead.
Governor McDonnell is sure to muster his forces and put his full backing behind Bill Bolling for the nomination, but Bob McDonnell is not a king maker. Those days, when one person had such power, went out with Harry Byrd almost a half century ago. Besides, while no one seems to mind the occasional gentleman’s agreement, Virginia Republicans have long proven that they have an independent streak when it comes to selecting candidates. They aren’t all that interested in whose turn it is. And who can blame them. This long standing tradition of taking turns, and not giving the party rank and file a serious role in picking the nominee, while occasionally tolerated, is just the sort of tradition that leads to the occasional revolt. Something that Bolling and Governor McDonnell might find out in 2013.