Ken Plum: Right over the cliff

Column by Ken Plum

Few incidents have resulted in as many comments and communications of concern to me as has Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s health-care reform legislation.

Coming on the heels of Attorney General Cuccinelli’s lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change regulations and his letter to Virginia’s colleges and universities saying that the institutions did not have the power to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians, the latest lawsuit makes citizens wonder what is going on in the attorney general’s office. Few would profess knowing for certain what the Commonwealth’s attorney general does in his official duties, nor would they express with confidence who the state senator, now Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is, having been elected in a statewide election that always gets overshadowed by the governor’s race. To answer the most frequently asked question: No, Virginia does not have a provision for recalling elected officials.

Those who know Mr. Cuccinelli are not surprised by his actions. He is an unabashed and unapologetic ultraconservative who has become a favorite of Fox News. And he has a following that supports and applauds what he is doing. He fits perfectly into the tea party “don’t tread on me” mold. He has caught a popular wave of anti-government sentiment and is going to continue to ride it.

The person who might be most adversely affected by the attorney general’s actions is Gov. Robert McDonnell who is just as conservative as Cuccinelli but who has worked hard during his campaign and in the opening months of his administration to appear more moderate and more accommodating. With each of the attorney general’s actions, the press has turned to the governor and asked him what he thinks about what the A.G. is doing. To oppose the attorney general would be to alienate the conservative base upon which both rely for support. To support him too enthusiastically would be to tarnish the image of moderation that the governor is trying to maintain. The governor has supported the attorney general in each instance but without much fanfare.

National columnists are suggesting that the right wing of the Republican Party is going too far in its opposition to anything Obama-related and in its shrill reaction to passage of the health-care reform bill. Over the next several years Republicans will need to determine the image with which they want to be identified. Some speculated that the moderate speaking Gov. McDonnell might fit that bill when he delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union. Now Gov. McDonnell runs the risk of being eclipsed in his own state by the attorney general. The sharp turn to the right of the Republican leadership in Virginia might just run the governor’s future plans over the cliff.

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