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In Defense of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

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Delegate Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), the Chairman of the House Democrat Caucus, recently published a petty, personal, partisan and vitriolic column in The Connection, attacking Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Governor Bob McDonnell. While Messrs. Cuccinelli and McDonnell certainly do not need my defense, the Plum broadside is so egregious, the record must be set straight.


Plum called Cuccinelli “an unabashed and unapologetic ultraconservative” for his legal actions challenging the federal health care bill and the EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon dioxide, as well as his memo to Virginia’s university cautioning they lack the legislative authority to adopt policies prohibiting discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Reston Democrat then attacked McDonnell and the entire Republican Party for failing to distance themselves from the chief lawyer of the Commonwealth.


Looking at each of these actions individually, it is clear Messrs. Cuccinelli and McDonnell are in the mainstream, while Mr. Plum is the one who is extreme.


There are 12 states that have filed motions to join Virginia in the EPA case – Nebraska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah. These actions have been taken by both Republican and Democrat attorneys general, not exactly a band of right wing zealots. A  U.S. Senate resolution to prevent the EPA from acting on its own – an action virtually identical to the outcome sought by Cuccinelli – has been cosponsored by Democrat Senators Lincoln of Arkansas, Nelson of Nebraska, and Landrieu of Louisiana. Does Plum believe these three members of his own party “caught a popular wave of anti-government sentiment” as he charged Cuccinelli has done?


The case against the recently enacted health care bill is supported by a broader cross section of Americans than just “a favorite of Fox News,” as Plum calls Mr. Cuccinelli. The previous attorney general of Virginia, Bill Mims, had announced that he would join several other chief state lawyers in filing a legal challenge to the health legislation, including the mandate that every citizen purchase insurance or be fined. That should have made Mr. Mims part of the “right wing” of the Republican Party that is going too far in its opposition to anything Obama-related and in its shrill reaction to passage of the health care reform bill,” yet, Plum voted to confirm Mims to the Virginia Supreme Court. To date, more than 20 states attorneys general, Democrats and Republicans, have joined cases against the new health care law. Cuccinelli’s litigation is in defense of a bill opposing the federal insurance purchase mandate (similar bills are moving through some 34 other states’ legislatures) that passed the Virginia House of Delegates on a bipartisan 80-17 vote and the Democrat-controlled Virginia State Senate by a 23-17 vote. A recent Zogby poll found that opposition to the healthcare reform act passed by Congress growing, with 51 percent of Americans opposed. Among those against the Congressional action are 58 percent of independent voters and 19 percent of Democrats. Have they all taken a “sharp turn to the right”?


With regard to the gay and lesbian issue, Mr. Cuccinelli, as the top lawyer for the Commonwealth, simply advised his client, the state universities, that they lacked the legal authority from the General Assembly to implement anti-discrimination policies. Mr. Plum should know. In the recent session of the General Assembly, he introduced HB 1287, which adds sexual orientation to the definition of unlawful discriminatory practice in the Virginia Human Rights Act, but the bill failed to get out of committee. After more than 30 years in the state legislature, Mr. Plum should know that agencies cannot take actions not authorized by the legislature. It should be noted that Mr. Cuccinelli’s memo did not say he condoned discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, but only stated that the legislature must act before the universities can.


Plum criticizes Governor McDonnell and his fellow Republicans for failing to distance themselves from Cuccinelli says the GOP “will need to determine the image with which they want to be identified.” The Gallop poll has reported that the Democratic Party’s favorability has dropped to 41 percent — the lowest in Gallup’s 18-year history of measuring it.  Rather than giving advice to the party of Lincoln and Reagan and launching ad hominem attacks on Messrs. Cuccinelli and McDonnell, perhaps Mr. Plum should focus his energies on restoring the Democrats as the party of Jefferson.

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