- The Washington Times - Monday, March 31, 2008

RICHMOND — Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, one of the state Senate’s most outspoken conservatives, announced today he will run for attorney general in 2009.

In announcing his candidacy in Fairfax, Cuccinelli emphasized he is a “conservative at heart” and won’t be moved.

“It’s not just positions. It’s who I am,” he said in a statement.

Cuccinelli, 39, is among the Senate’s most forceful opponents of abortion rights, gun control, gay rights and no-fault divorce, an advocate for classroom prayer in public schools and crackdowns on illegal or undocumented immigrants.

But Cuccinelli, a lawyer in private practice, has much more quietly established himself as an authority in the General Assembly on issues affecting the mentally ill.

Cuccinelli’s announcement follows by one week the announcement by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to pass on a run for governor. His decision, along with former Gov. George Allen’s choice to sit out the race, leaves Attorney General Bob McDonnell uncontested for the GOP nomination.

Cuccinelli won the 39th District seat from western Fairfax County in a 2002 special election, succeeding Republican Sen. Warren E. Barry, who resigned to head the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.

Five years later, with Democrats resurgent statewide, Cuccinelli raised more than $1.2 million to defeat Democratic challenger Janet Oleszek.

His re-election was affirmed only after a recount found that he won by 101 votes out of more than 37,000 cast.

Two other Republican senators from Fairfax County the state’s most populous locality lost their seats to Democrats, and Cuccinelli’s narrow victory makes him the lone GOP senator from the immediate suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Cuccinelli’s record of supporting legislation to substantially curb abortion access, crack down on illegal aliens and battle what he calls “the homosexual agenda” has made him a hero of religious and social conservatives, a following he has nurtured for years as a political base for his first statewide run.

Most of the six anti-abortion bills he has sponsored in his 1 [1/2] terms in the Senate went after clinics that perform abortions and would have put most of them out of business by requiring them to meet the same equipment and construction standards as hospitals.

In the legislative session that ended March 13, Cuccinelli sponsored legislation that would have given employers the right to fire employees who can’t or don’t speak English only on the job.

He has sponsored eight bills expanding the right to sell or carry guns and opposed an effort to close a loophole that allows the mentally ill and felons to buy firearms at gun shows from unlicensed traders. Relatives of 32 people slain at Virginia Tech nearly one year ago had lobbied emotionally for the legislation, though the mentally disturbed gunman bought his weapons from licensed firearms retailers.

Cuccinelli, however, was sponsoring legislation to tighten Virginia’s broken system of identifying and treating the mentally ill — by court fiat if necessary — long before the Tech killings.

Since 2004, Cuccinelli has authored nearly 30 bills on the issue, including six during the 2007 session that dealt with judicial commitments for those needing mental health services.

Weeks later, the Tech massacre was carried out by Seung-Hui Cho, a student who had slipped through the mental health care system despite behavior that repeatedly alarmed members of the university’s faculty, administration, police and other students. A court’s order that Cho receive help was futile.

In the 2008 session, Cuccinelli was the Senate’s top authority on the issue as the General Assembly enacted a broad slate of mental health reforms in response to the carnage.

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