Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on October 20, 2013
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Virginia Freak Show
“If you go back to Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War, he looked at the Civil War as a sort of a national penance for slavery; the evil of slavery and letting it go on. And the founders knew how bad it was. We have other things in this country today and abortion is one of them”
― Ken Cuccinelli
It is been a while since this weekly exercise in pedantry has considered Virginia politics. Virginia is one of two states (New Jersey the other) who elect governors in odd years outside of the four-year presidential election cycle. We have alluded in the past to the antics of some campaigners; time now to take the gloves off and let folks see the shiny and glistening underbelly of Virginia politics,shimmering like that of a reptile.
Investigation for this summary uncovered such a rich treasure trove that it is necessary to break it into two parts. This week we’ll consider the governor’s race. Next week we’ll take on the LG race featuring E. W. Jackson, an ideologue’s ideologue whose excesses have attracted national attention. Suffice it to say that when even the extremists find you extreme and the Tea Party candidates run away from you, you have staked out exotic new ground. And that’s Virginia.
First let’s consider the Democratic candidate for governor, Terry McAuliffe. Wikipedia says thus:
Terence Richard “Terry” McAuliffe (born February 9, 1957) is an American businessman, fundraiser, politician, and former chairman of the Democratic Party. He was chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, was co-chairman of President Bill Clinton‘s 1996 re-election campaign, and was chairman of Hillary Clinton‘s 2008 presidential campaign. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2009 Virginia gubernatorial election and is the Democratic nominee in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election.
McAuliffe is a political animal and a consummate fundraiser. In a 1999 interview with the New York Times he said, “I’ve met all my business contacts through politics. It’s all interrelated.” He also acknowledged that much of the success of his business dealings stemmed through his relationship with the Clintons. No surprise there. One does not rise to become the head of the national Democratic Party without the ability to raise significant amounts of money. And he has; he got the DNC out of debt, and has raised money to support past Democratic campaigns in Virginia. Many attribute McAuliffe’s support for Tim Kaine’s successful 2005 Virginia gubernatorial run as demonstrating the Democrats’ viability in southern states after the 2004 presidential election.
Like many successful politicians, McAuliffe has had some remarkable runs of “business luck.” In the 80s, McAuliffe lost $800,000 invested in his father-in-law’s bank, American Pioneer Savings. It was seized by the Resolution Trust Corporation, but McAuliffe brokered a deal with two pension funds to buy American Pioneer at fire sale prices. The funds put in $37 million, and he put $100 into the deal, but nevertheless received a 50% equity share. He also made a great deal of money in fiber-optic company Global Crossing, but there is no (indictable) crime in that. (Virginia Sen. Mark Warner invested in the cellular phone industry in the late 70s when it was beginning, and made his own boodle.)
(Full disclosure: Contrary is working as a local campaign aide and volunteer for McAuliffe’s campaign.) Notwithstanding, we find this candidate dyspeptic and his record thin. His reputation as a bagman for the Clintons, however, remains unsurpassed, and he has demonstrated an astonishing track record in raising money for Democratic causes. McAuliffe’s may not be the most luminous political resume in the world; yet the candidate looks like the second coming of George Washington compared to his opponent.
Ken Cuccinelli is that opponent. Suffice it to say that his ascendancy to the governorship would be analogous to Ted Cruz becoming President of the United States. Mull that over for a minute. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
Kenneth Thomas “Ken” Cuccinelli II (born July 30, 1968) is the current Attorney General of Virginia and the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election. He was elected as Virginia’s 46th Attorney General in the November 2009 general election. From 2002 until January 16, 2010 he was a Republican member of the Senate of Virginia, representing the 37th district in Fairfax County. He holds degrees in engineering, law and commercial policy, and co-founded a small law firm.
Cuccinelli promises to do for Virginia with Scott Walker has done for Wisconsin, Rick Snyder for Michigan and Paul LePage for Maine: Make the state a laughingstock and object of derision for the rest of the country. Let’s take a brief tour of the candidate’s record as attorney general of Virginia.
In 2010, Cuccinelli served papers to investigate documents related to Michael Mann, a climate researcher working at the University of Virginia. (Mann has since had the good sense to flee Virginia and now works at Penn State.) He based his complaint on a fraud charge, although he never provided any evidence of wrongdoing. Mann was found correct on all coounts according to the National Academy of Sciences, and the consensus was clear that the document sift was a McCarthy-esque witchhunt.
But victory for the university came at a price. The fight cost UVa $570,000, which it paid out of private funds. Not to mention the expense to the taxpayers of Virginia.
But the AG was just getting started. He filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. To the dismay of tenthers everywhere, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that Virginia could not nullify a federal law. Ka-ching. He joined other states in filing an amicus brief opposing the federal government’s lawsuit challenging repressive Arizona immigration laws. Ka-ching. He sought to clarify gay-rights nondiscrimination by prohibiting Virginia public colleges and universities from including “sexual orientation” as a protected class. Ka-ching.
And then there was the front that he opened against abortion clinics, using the Virginia Board of Health as a lever. As attorney general, Cuccinelli strongly urged the Board to approve a new set of rules for abortion clinics that will force them to undergo expensive and medically unnecessary renovations in order to hold onto their licenses. Ka-ching. The clinics will have to expand the size of their janitor’s closets, for instance, and build spacious staff lounges with showers — an endeavor that some of them will not be able to afford. As a state senator, he proposed a fetal personhood amendment, yet wonders why he is polling so badly among women.
He also told the state Board of Health that if they disagreed with his rulings regarding abortion clinics, that the AG’s office would not be responsible for representing them should litigation occur, and they would be on their own nickel. (This after his boss, Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound, signed a bill requiring women to have an mandatory ultrasound prior to having a legal abortion.) This bill, and an even more punitive one before it, caused women activists all over the state to descend upon Richmond in protest. (Meanwhile, safely out of public view, the Governor’s Uranium Task Force was quietly working to change existing law and to “draft regulations” so that they might be able to introduce uranium mining in Virginia. A skillful head fake, but ultimately unsuccessful thanks to the efforts of thousands of activists, bloggers, and volunteers who showed up at hearings, wrote letters, and made sufficient noise to prevent this existential nightmare of a bill from actually reaching the floor of the legislature.)
Recently, Cuccinelli has gone on record as being surprised God hasn’t punished America for abortions.
“Really, given that God does judge nations, it’s amazing that abortion has run as far and foully as it has, without what I would consider to be a greater imposition of judgment on this country,” Cuccinelli said. “Who knows what the future holds?”
You can’t make this stuff up. “The Cooch” seems to be the mid-Atlantic distributor for the sorts of political opinion we typically see from members of the Fascist Front (formerly known as the Tea Party): he sponsored a number of bills discouraging abortion (ka-ching), to revoke citizenship rights for children born in the US to illegal immigrants (ka-ching), to deny unemployment benefits to workers unable to speak English (ka-ching), and of course that holy of holies, lower taxes. Oh, and did we say guns? Guns, guns, and more guns. This is Virginia, after all: now we Virginians have the ability to carry a concealed handgun into a restaurant and club, the restriction against having been overturned by the Cooch’s efforts. (After all, who doesn’t feel safer when guns and alcohol mix? We’re sure that half million dollars from the NRA had nothing to do with it– ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching!)
And then there was the quest to restore Virginia’s anti-sodomy law (ka-ching). Cuccinelli alleged that the law was necessary to chase child predators. Fortunately the Supreme Court denied Cuccinelli’s appeal, and has at least temporarily kept the AG’s nose from poking under the blankets in Virginia bedrooms.
And then there’s the garden-variety corruption of the Star Scientific scandal. Seems that Star Scientific’s chief executive, Jonnie R Williams, is a very generous guy, and he showered both the Cooch and his boss, Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound, with many many gifts. (The stench from the scandal has, at least temporarily, stalled the once-rising political ambitions of Gov. Ultrasound himself.) This past July, after an investigation conducted with the rigor generally reserved for Goldman Sachs investigating itself, the state prosecutor announced that Cooch had not violated any law. You can check Google and enter “Virginia campaign finance laws” and you will find that the most frequent modifier is “lax.”
To review the bidding, Ken Cuccinelli has used Virginia taxpayer money to prosecute a far right agenda in the courts, mostly unsuccessfully. This culture warrior has waged war against climate change research, birth control, abortion, and opposed keeping guns out of schools, bars and churches. With positions like these, he has attracted some very colorful supporters.
While Ken Cuccinelli may be the top law enforcement officer in the Commonwealth of Virginia, that hasn’t stopped him from taking campaign contributions for his gubernatorial bid from a Religious Right activist linked to a kidnapping investigation. Blue Virginia notes that Cuccinelli donor Philip Zodhiates of Response Unlimited is tied to the Lisa Miller kidnapping case.
Zodhiates was named in a RICO lawsuit [PDF] filed by Janet Jenkins, whose former partner Lisa Miller kidnapped their daughter, Isabella, and fled to a Mennonite community in Central America. Before leaving the country with Isabella, Miller broke off a civil partnership with Jenkins after she renounced homosexuality and moved to Virginia and joined the church founded by Jerry Falwell, who also established Liberty University. Miller abducted Isabella after refusing a court order to transfer custody of their daughter to Jenkins.
No word as to whether the Cooch has returned Phil’s check. And then there is the remarkable case of Cuccinelli surrogate Jim Bob Duggar comparing the US To Nazi Germany. Why? Bet you can guess.
Campaigning for the GOP ticket in Virginia, Duggar attempted to “clarify” his remarks by affirming his comparison of the current state of the US to the Holocaust:
“It is shocking that Cuccinelli would accept the support of a man who last week publicly compared the United States to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust,” said McAuliffe’s campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin.
Asked about his earlier decision to employ the holocaust metaphor Duggar did not back down.
“Let me clarify,” he said. “We have since 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) had 55 million abortions, so what we have going on is a baby holocaust,” Duggar said.
Like most fantasts of the extreme right, Cuccinelli knows how to use religious right propaganda and the fear card to open the fundraising spigots: A campaign fundraising appeal asserted speculation that “clergy might face imprisonment for teaching the Christian morals from the pulpit” and that homeschooling might be outlawed.
We live in a nation in which our inalienable rights to life and liberty face real threats. Our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, second amendments rights, parental rights, and property rights are all slowly being strangled by our federal government.
My oldest daughter, Alie, left a few weeks ago to begin her second year of college. She told me recently she might want to home school her own children one day. I wonder if Alie will even be allowed to home school her children if she desires to do so. President Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, recently argued in federal court that parents do not have a fundamental right to home school their own children.
Jesus. Cue the black helicopters. Really?
The recent kabuki in DC regarding the shutdown of the government also did the candidate no favors. During that time, he was outspent 2 to 1 by McAuliffe. And worse for him, his poll numbers took an additional hit. Southeast Virginia is home to nearly 200,000 federal workers, and many contractors, veterans, and civilians employed by military commands. Having their paychecks delayed so that tea party types could parade their peculiar brand of brinksmanship did not sit well in many quarters.
Virginia was one of the top states impacted by the shutdown — with hundreds of thousands of federal workers, contractors, and military service members and retirees in the state. And a majority (54 percent) in the poll blames Republicans for the shutdown. Just 31 percent of likely voters blame President Barack Obama.
Four-in-10 – 39 percent – said either they or a family member has been affected by the shutdown, whether it’s employment, services or benefits.
Many say the shutdown will have an impact on their vote — 38 percent of registered voters said it would have a major impact on it; 21 percent said it would have a minor one.
Ironies abound. That Tea Party policies should adversely affect a Tea Party candidate is just one of those delicious irony is that makes life worth living.
As a result, and in the face of huge amounts of right-wing money poured into the airways of the state, most polls showed McAuliffe ahead between 7 and 10 points in a three-way race (the third being libertarian Robert Sarvis.) As The Cooch has trailed, money has poured in, with the result that the campaign has taken a darker, nastier turn.
The battle between a Tea Party favorite and a former top Democratic official to become the next governor of Virginia has set a record – more out-of-state money has poured into this race than any gubernatorial campaign in the state’s history.
In the contest between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, about 70 percent of the nearly $30 million raised for the campaigns has come from outside Virginia, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a non-profit group that monitors spending in state politics.
The largesse underscores the thinking among political operatives, lobbyists and special interest groups: When it comes to elections this year, Virginia is the only game in town. The biggest U.S. political contest of 2013, to take place November 5, is widely seen as a testing ground for next year’s congressional mid-term elections.
It is the first time in the state’s history that a gubernatorial candidate has raised more than half his funds outside Virginia, the Virginia Public Access Project said, referring to both Cuccinelli and McAuliffe. The list of donors includes special interest groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Rifle Association, and hedge fund executives from as far afield as New York and California.
Thus Virginia is the Spanish Civil War for the 2014 midterm elections? But Virginia is hard to predict. Once a Republican stronghold, it is now considered “purple.” Fewer voters turn up during off year elections, which amplifies the impact of right-wing voters, who are busily digging up graves to ensure that they vote all of theirs. Donations have fueled negative campaign advertising, sparking fears that an increasingly nasty tone could turn off voters and depress turnout on election day, the results of which would also redound to the right. Also, although Sarvis is showing up with about 8 to 10% of the vote according to polls, some may get to the ballot box and decide to choose otherwise. That vote would expectedly skew toward Cuccinelli.
We have a few more weeks with which to pollute the airwaves, and for media companies to rake in political advertising dollars. Indeed, political advertising is the crack cocaine of the media business: a third-quarter infusion of funds that makes billing problems disappear, at least for a while. Next week, we’ll consider the improbable candidacy of E. W. Jackson, who deserves his own column. If Ken Cuccinelli is the freak show of Virginia politics, Jackson is the sideshow where a barker urges you to go inside a filthy tent to watch a pencil-necked geek bite the head off a chicken… a degrading and horrific act you find immediately distasteful, but ultimately oddly entertaining.