Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s new outspoken attorney general, doesn’t keep his cards close to his vest.
“I get called an awful lot of things in Virginia, but somebody who plays hide the ball is not one of them,” he says.
In the few short months since he moved into his new office in Richmond, the former state senator and self-described social conservative has challenged the Environmental Protection Agency on greenhouse gas regulations, led a charge against the Obama administration’s health care mandate and is supporting Gov. Bob McDonnell in an effort to end the state’s monopoly on liquor distribution, a policy that has been in place since the end of Prohibition.
“I generally try not to do anything halfway,” Cuccinelli says. “Once we make a decision to go forward, we certainly want to do it as vigorously as we can.”
It came as little surprise that only a few weeks into his term, Cuccinelli filed a legal challenge to the EPA after the agency declared that heat-trapping gasses like C02 could be regulated. Arguing that regulations on C02 would be a sure “job killer” in the state, Cuccinelli petitioned and is awaiting a ruling. So far, 16 states have joined the EPA lawsuit.
It was not long after the EPA suit that Congress passed a major health care bill, asserting control over one-sixth of the national economy and requiring every American to buy insurance. Citing the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Cuccinelli announced he would sue even before President Obama signed it into law.
He has carried the suit forward, and said the case will be long over in Virginia at the district court level by mid-November. The loser will undoubtedly appeal, and take it to the fourth circuit court. The attorney general predicted that the Supreme Court will take up the law by June 2012.
“It’s a little awkward starting right out of the gate and in month one suing the EPA and in month two suing the United States for the health care bill,” he says. “But I will say one of the advantages is that I know I’m going to be here to see them through.”
Cuccinelli has long been a player in Virginia state politics, and is well known for championing conservative causes. The 41-year-old George Mason University Law School grad and father of seven served as a state senator from 2002 to the time he was inaugurated as attorney general.
It is an understatement to say that Cuccinelli’s positions have made him few friends in the national media. In October 2009, The Washington Post wrote that Cuccinelli would be “an embarrassment to the commonwealth” and that his beliefs on the role of the state in dealing with the gay marriage were “ugly nonsense” and “retrofit the old rhetoric of racism, bias and intolerance in a new context.”
When Cuccinelli announced that he would sue over the new federal health care law on behalf of the state, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. called the attorney general a member of “the new nullifiers” who was determined to “bring us back to the 1830s.”
When asked if he felt that he had been treated fairly by the Post, Cuccinelli, in his usual fashion, did not mince words. “That’s an easier answer. No.”
“It’s a liberal paper. They don’t merely seek to report the news,” he says. “They are trying to move things in the public arena in a particular direction.”
Cuccinelli says he believes in limited government, but stops short of calling himself a libertarian. His views on gay marriage, abortion and immigration place him squarely among social conservatives. He has called homosexual behavior “intrinsically wrong,” increased enforcement on undocumented workers in Virginia, and he supports withholding state funds from groups like Planned Parenthood.
Above all, keeping Washington in check is one of his primary jobs, he says. Cuccinelli believes that the states have an obligation that was mandated by the nation’s founders to stand up to the federal government whenever a “principled line has been crossed.”
“The tension between the federal and state levels of government was put there for a purpose and we are exercising that purpose — to rein in the out of control level of government,” he said.
And there is little doubt that Cuccinelli is pursuing that mission — one law suit at a time.