David Reynolds: Our next governor

Around 1:45 pm on February 10, the governor of Virginia addressed W&L’s Mock Convention. Thirty minutes later, the governor concluded his remarks and headed to inspect the new Devils Backbone Brewing Company on US 11. As he descended the stage steps, the attorney general of Virginia was preparing his climb to address the convention – and possibly climb higher. Virginia’s 2013 campaign flashed before our eyes. The two men forced a smile. The temperature in the hall dropped. Nothing was said. It had already been said.

What was already said was Mr. Cucinnelli’s cold announcement this winter that he, too, is running for governor, thus upsetting — possibly wrecking — Mr. McDonnell’s nice little agreement with his lieutenant governor, Bill Bolling, on who shall go first to be Virginia’s governor. They naturally assume that all Virginia governors are Republicans.

Bolling, the third man, the man who drew the short straw and was missing from the Lexington scene, stayed in Richmond to preside over the Senate. That’s because in November the voters were undecided on who should control Virginia’s Senate. They created a tie, 20 Republican senators and 20 Democrats . But the Republicans saw it as 21-20. They brought in their ringer, the lieutenant governor., to take over the Senate.  We can’t wait until the next tie and there is a Democratic LG.

Sorry, we digress. Doesn’t Mr. Cucinnelli, a Virginia gentleman, realize that you do not break up secret agreements between two other Virginia gentlemen? Now Bill has to work for the nomination. He’s not happy about this change of events. He has to spend time and money to buy his brass ring. It won’t be given to him.

However, everything has worked out for Bob. At 4:45 pm the following day, Bob McDonnell was nominated by the student convention to be Mitt Romney’s running mate. I can see it now. There is a Romney-McDonnell ticket in August. It wins in November. In January, Gov. McDonnell resigns and Lt. Gov. Bolling becomes Gov. Bolling. Then in 2013 a heated intra-party battle and primary plays out with the AG besting the LG and then going on to become Virginia’s governor.

Too wild a scenario? I’m not so sure. We had an opportunity to talk to one of the players in this political melodrama, Ken Cucinnelli. Ken has the smarts and determination to pull it off. And he has superb oratorical skills, essential for climbing political stairs. His talk from the convention stage on the limits of government and federalism was as perfect for a W&L law school lecture as for its mock convention.

This happened to be our first opportunity to meet Ken Cucinnelli. I kicked off our short chat off saying, “God bless the Italians!” We laughed. Cucinnelli indicated why he decided to run for governor as, shall we say like a Panasonic product, slightly ahead of his time. It’s not personal. The AG and the LG  are friends. Rather, he senses that the Republican Party, in Virginia, as well as in the nation, has lost its bearing, its muscle and maybe its way. It fails to act in a positive conservative manner. He knew that his words were not unlike those directed towards Mitt Romney.

This reminded me of a story told at the convention. Three men walk into a bar. One is a liberal, the other a moderate and the third a conservative. The bartender says, “Hello Mitt.”

Cucinnelli is no Romney. He wants the elephant to run, not go off to some burial ground. The difference between Bolling and Cucinnelli, both Republicans, is far more than style — unless you think that having fire in an Italian belly is just a fashion statement. Cucinnelli is running for governor because of another Italian. It was Rick Santelli of CNBC who coined the term “Tea Party.” Maybe Rick is willing to change his address to form a Cucinnelli-Santelli ticket for Virginia.


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