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Va. AG Cuccinelli will defy tradition, stay on job while campaigning
Question of the Day
Mr. Cuccinelli, the Republican front-runner in this fall’s gubernatorial race, likely will become the state’s seventh-consecutive elected attorney general to square off in a general election for governor.
The previous six elected attorneys general all resigned in the final year of their terms to concentrate on campaigning, and the past two — including now-Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2009 — quit in February, allowing them to skirt a state law that prohibits fundraising during the General Assembly session by state officials running for state office.
Such a move could help Mr. Cuccinelli keep up with Terry McAuliffe, the big-spending Democratic front-runner, but the outspoken Republican insists he will finish out his term and that he has plenty of work left to be done.
“When I was running for attorney general, both I and my opponent promised to serve out all four years,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “I didn’t run for attorney general to run for governor; I ran to be the best attorney general that I could be.”
Since announcing his candidacy for governor in late 2011, Mr. Cuccinelli has dismissed suggestions that he should resign to focus on a race that likely will come down to himself, Mr. McAuliffe and potentially Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican weighing a run as an independent that likely would tip the odds in Mr. McAuliffe’s favor.
It is considered a tradition in Virginia for the attorney general to step down when running for governor, with political observers and the candidates themselves often saying that the job’s responsibilities — which include providing legal advice to state officials and representing the state in court cases — are greater than those of a lieutenant governor or lawmaker, and thus cannot be effectively balanced with campaigning.
“The office of the attorney general is the commonwealth’s law firm and demands a full-time attorney general,” Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, said in 2009 when announcing his resignation, which took effect Feb. 20 of that year. “To remain in this office while running a gubernatorial campaign wouldn’t have been fair to you, the taxpayer.”
While Mr. McDonnell called his decision “the right and proper thing to do,” past attorneys general have received criticism from opponents no matter what they do.
Candidates who have tried to balance the office with campaigning have been accused of neglecting their duties as attorney general, while those who resigned were accused of abandoning them entirely.
The latter accusation appears to carry more weight with Mr. Cuccinelli, who says he plans to take an active role in the 46-day General Assembly session which kicked off last week, and that he has other responsibilities, which include providing guidance on the state’s implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Cuccinelli, who has vehemently opposed the act, made waves last week by suggesting that religious objectors to its mandate that employers’ insurance plans cover contraceptives might “go to jail” as a show of civil disobedience.
“I’m certainly not advocating that people go to jail, but religious liberty is why a lot of people came to this country,” he said when reflecting on the comments. “If our government is driving so many people to be contemplating this kind of civil disobedience, I think there’s a good reason to double check and ask, ‘Have we gone too far here?’”
Mr. Cuccinelli’s agenda for the assembly session appears less controversial, as it includes bills aiming to tighten laws against human trafficking, make it easier for political candidates to get onto the ballot, allow future attorneys general to present evidence on behalf of wrongly convicted criminals, and stamp out Medicaid fraud.
Political analysts suggest that staying in office is not likely to hinder Mr. Cuccinelli in the next few months, as he will not have a challenger in the primary. Fellow GOP candidate Tareq Salahi announced Monday he would run for governor as an independent, rather than compete in June’s state Republican Party convention.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
David Hill joined The Washington Times in February 2011 as a Maryland political reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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