New Va. attorney general ready to take on feds
Virginia Attorney General-elect Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II is known for speaking his mind.
As he prepares next month to be sworn in as the top attorney for the state, nothing has changed. For those concerned that the attorney general-elect is going to embrace his conservative principles and take on anyone who opposes those beliefs — even the federal government — Mr. Cuccinelli said they are right to be concerned.
“If they’re worried that I’m going to sue the federal government, their worry is well-placed,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
In the Republican state senator’s acceptance speech after winning the election in November, he promised to fight for Virginians — even if that meant taking on the federal government on controversial issues such as the union organizing system known as card check.
“Normally there is a fight over a bill in Congress, and if it passes it goes to the president and if he signs that bill, that’s typically the end of the fight,” he said. “But I’ve got news for you. If we see an overreaching bill like card check, the president’s signature won’t be the last fight on that bill.”
Mr. Cuccinelli said that under his leadership the attorney general’s office will include a group fo- cused on examining federal laws. He said the group, which will be small so as not to impact on other priorities, won’t be looking at previous laws but rather those going forward that impact Virginians.
It is not that Mr. Cuccinelli wants to assert greater states’ rights, he said, but he would like to shrink the size and intrusion of the federal government. So, for instance, if the current balance of power between federal and state government is 10 to one in favor of the federal government, he would like to see that ratio tighten to five to one.
“The devil’s in the details,” he said, adding that he will wait until after a federal law is passed and determine whether it impinges on the rights of Virginians and whether the state has standing to sue the federal government.
“We’re looking for opportunities to right the constructional balance, which is in my view currently out of balance,” Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Asked whether that would make him an activist, Mr. Cuccinelli said he sees himself more in a preservationist or conservationist role.
He said he thinks there is a court fight coming over the state’s homosexual marriage laws. Virginians voters approved a constitutional amendment in November 2006 that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Mr. Cuccinelli also said he will defend the state’s 2003 law that bans partial birth abortion if it comes before the U.S. Supreme Court during his tenure. A priority for him will be working to reform the laws to eliminate redundancies and inconsistencies in the way state health officials interact with mentally ill patients. Mr. Cuccinelli said he will also continue Robert F. McDonnell’s anti-gang initiatives.
The conservative Republican said the news should come as no surprise.
“For starters, I’m consistent,” he said. “I’m not sneaking up on people with this. I’ve been saying it for a year and a half. I tried to give voters a very clear choice,” he said.
He is studying how the attorney general’s office runs and figuring out his plans, especially as he deals with the very real possibilities of a diminished budget.
It remains to be seen how many employees of the attorney general’s office will be tapped by Mr. McDonnell, the Republican governor-elect who served as attorney general before February when he resigned to run for governor.
While the two men have spoken about personnel and legal matters, Mr. Cuccinelli said it is still uncertain how many of his staffers will follow their previous boss.
Mr. Cuccinelli has a long history of fighting against those things he sees as wrong.
During his acceptance speech after winning his party’s nomination for attorney general in June, the 41-year-old lawyer and father of seven took his party to task for failing to adhere to the principles that he said define the party.
“We are in the minority in Washington and here in Virginia because Republicans abandoned their core principles,” he told a room full of party faithful at the Republican nominating convention.
Mr. Cuccinelli speaks passionately about the importance of upholding his beliefs. He attributes his state Senate victories, even in an increasingly liberal area such as Northern Virginia, to his unwavering support of conservative Republican principles.
He sees those conservative principles as popular in his old district and the reason why the three Republicans vying to replace him campaigned as the most conservative, the most like him.
Republicans nominated Steve Hunt on Dec. 1. Mr. Cuccinelli said he thinks the Republican is well positioned to win the special election to be held Jan. 12.
Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, attorney general-elect for Virginia, is ready to take on the federal government for the state on controversial issues such as the union organizing system known as card check.