This is war.
There's no other way to explain Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's approach to public office. The enemies are centralized government and those who offend his conservative religious values.
Ergo, the Republican attorney general is suing the federal government over environmental and health care policies. He's launched a fraud investigation into a scientist's research and conclusion that global warming is a threat. He's advised universities to remove gays from their anti-discrimination policies. He's issued lapel pins to his staff with an altered state seal that covers the exposed left breast of the Roman goddess Virtus.
And his term isn't even five months old.
No doubt, this cultural warrior is dropping bombs and not fretting about casualties. You can debate whether he's reckless. But don't think he's without a plan.
Cuccinelli is staking his political career on his skills as a lawyer. He bets he can convince courts that federal efforts to curb greenhouse gasses are the misguided result of hack scientists seeking to prove global warming; that a new U.S. law requiring individuals to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
If Cuccinelli wins, then all the fury about his ideology becomes noise. He'll be right based on legal fact. He'll be credited with shielding Virginia businesses and citizens from costly and intrusive federal dictates. His controversial opinion that Virginia law doesn't ban discrimination based on sexual orientation will gain traction. After all, if he prevails in two landmark suits involving science and federalism, who's going to question his untested opinion on a Virginia law?
What if Cuccinelli loses in court? He'll face derision, become the butt of jokes on late-night television and be dismissed as a shame to Virginia. Others will applaud him for taking on big government and alternative lifestyles despite the political risks.
In other words, nothing changes.
That's OK for Cuccinelli because he doesn't have much room for advancement. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling has been all but promised the 2013 Republican gubernatorial nomination as a reward for not challenging Gov. Bob McDonnell for the party's banner last year. Cuccinelli is eyeing a second term as attorney general in 2013. Little attention is paid to down-ticket races in Virginia and those who run for re-election — Bolling, former Lt. Gov. Don Beyer, former Attorney General Mary Sue Terry — always seem to win. So for now, Cuccinelli isn't worrying much about politics.
There is risk, however. Virginia voters have no patience for politicians who become embarrassments, such as former Sen. George Allen in 2006, who went from presidential candidate and bulletproof incumbent to unemployed after repeated gaffes, including the notorious “macaca incident.” Like Allen, Cuccinelli may be undercutting his own credibility.
Cuccinelli also seems off-balance with the huge learning curve that comes with being a new attorney general. He has little sense of public relations and says he's been surprised by the controversies he's caused. Perhaps as a result, he hasn't given McDonnell, a fellow Republican, advance warning of some of his political grenades. Some say Cuccinelli is making the rookie mistake of taking on too many fights at once.
Cuccinelli will need every bit of his focus when he goes to court. Just imagine the proceedings against the Environmental Protection Agency, which he claims shouldn't be regulating emissions based on fraudulent global-warming research: The attorney general will be trying to disprove years of complex scientific research on climate change backed by the federal government. Where will he find the resources and expertise to pursue the case? Will other priorities of his office — such as consumer protection or representation of state agencies — be compromised as a result?
Educators complain that Cuccinelli's fraud investigation of a former University of Virginia professor's study on global warming could have a chilling effect on scientific research that runs counter to an attorney general's views. I doubt this disturbs the attorney general. College professors, after all, tend to be liberal and supportive of big government.
And Cucinelli is at war.
Warren Fiske covered state government and politics for The Virginian-Pilot for 25 years. He lives in Henrico County.
Opinions expressed are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.