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EDITORIAL: Cuccinelli for governor

Civil liberties are on the line in the Virginia election

- - Monday, October 21, 2013

At first glance, the race for governor of Virginia may look like a contest between a rock-ribbed conservative Republican and a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat, but there's more at stake than that. Ken Cuccinelli is a small-government conservative, and his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, has never seen a problem that he thinks couldn't be solved by raising taxes and feeding the beast. There's much about Mr. Cuccinelli that should appeal to Northern Virginia moderates of both parties.

Mr. Cuccinelli sees a bigger and more intrusive government as a threat to basic civil liberties, a view shared by growing numbers of conservatives, moderates and liberals alike.

Mr. Cuccinelli has a passion for righting the wrongs in the legal system with ways not traditionally considered Republican, but he remains true to limited-government principles. "I'm the most pro-liberty elected statewide official in Virginia in my lifetime," he says. "I don't think it's even a close call."

That matters in Virginia, and it's not just the National Security Agency snooping on innocent behavior. During the 2008 presidential campaign, the Virginia State Police started using license-plate scanners to track enthusiastic backers of Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, and Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee.

Government agencies have no business compiling databases that can be easily converted into enemies lists, but politicians rarely have the courage to say so. Republicans err on the side of enabling police to do such things "for our own good." Democrats stand back, afraid of being labeled soft on crime.

Mr. Cuccinelli, as the attorney general of Virginia, pulled the plug this year, saying that such surveillance could only be conducted in connection with an investigation of a particular crime. He insists that Virginians going about their lawful business must never be treated like suspects. "We need to shackle the new technology with the old rules," he says. "Normally, you talk in terms of going the other way, but not when you're protecting civil liberties."

From his time representing Fairfax County in the state Senate, Mr. Cuccinelli has been relentless in attempting to make sure the innocent never be consigned to prison and forgotten. He has had an uphill struggle to update Virginia's "actual innocence" law, giving convicts a chance to present new evidence, such as DNA, fingerprints and recanted testimony, to clear their names and establish their innocence.

Two years ago, the statute was used to exonerate Thomas Haynesworth, who spent 27 years in prison after several rape victims in Richmond identified him as the man from a lineup. His blood type matched that of evidence left at the scene of the crime. That was the best technology available in 1984, and Mr. Haynesworth was convicted and sent to prison. But in 2005, DNA evidence proved that the state had the wrong man. Many attorneys general would hide embarrassing mistakes like that, lest the legal system lose credibility.

Mr. Cuccinelli personally argued on behalf of Mr. Haynesworth and offered him a job when his name was cleared. "The problem," he said, on accepting an award from the Innocence Project for his work on the Haynesworth case, "is that too many in law enforcement tend to forget the word 'justice' in the criminal justice system."

Mr. Cuccinelli cares. He is at his most passionate discussing fair treatment and actual justice for all. He understands that a government's most awesome power is the power to take a man's freedom by declaring him guilty of a crime. "You always have to be vigilant in reining in government," he says.

The Bill of Rights was the work of Virginians, and as governor of the Commonwealth Mr. Cuccinelli would give their guarantees the vitality the Founders breathed into them as part of the Constitution. For this and other reasons, we enthusiastically recommend Ken Cuccinelli for governor.