Although Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has held office just shy of five months, he's carved out a national profile as an ardent defender of states' rights. The new lapel pins he distributed to his staff, and then decided to discontinue Monday afternoon, draw him even closer to the most famous advocates of states' rights: the Confederate army.
The image on the pin is nearly identical to the one that appears on a Virginia state flag captured during the Civil War from a regiment in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia by a Pennsylvania regiment.
State Sen. Donald McEachin sees the tie to the Confederacy as “very intentional.”
“I think he's strengthening his own hand with his base so he can get a nomination for a higher office,” McEachin says.
Brag Bowling, who serves as the commander of the latter-day Army of Northern Virginia, now a division of the International Sons of Confederate Veterans, hopes that the use of the image is a statement in support of state's rights. “The state is getting trumped by the federal government,” he says. “If that's why he did it I'm all for it. I think it's a good thing.”
Publicly, Cuccinelli says he got the idea for the pin from “a large antique state flag that hangs in the Virginia Capitol” in a press statement released Monday announcing he would discontinue distributing the lapel pin. He says the media uproar over the pin, the covering of the exposed breast, had become a “media-made” distraction, but didn't address the apparent link to the Confederate army.
The image on the pins, paid for by Cuccinelli's political-action committee, shows a version of the Roman goddess Virtus with her robe concealing both breasts, unlike Virginia's great seal where the garment covers only one. The pin caught national attention last week after Cuccinelli joked in a staff meeting that Virtus' new look was more modest. “I cannot believe that joking with my staff about Virtue being a little more ‘virtuous' in this antique version has become news,” he said in the May 3 statement.
Cuccinelli has made states' rights a signature issue by filing lawsuits against the federal government over the health care reform bill and powers of the Environmental Protection Agency. He's been instrumental in solidifying Republicans who tout the 10th Amendment as a political identifier, referencing the Constitutional amendment that restricts the federal government from exercising powers not specifically granted to it in the founding document, leaving them to the states.
Three Seals: In the middle is the pin Cuccinelli distributed to his staff. To the left is the flag hanging in the State Capitol that Cuccinelli says was his inspiration. To the right is a Virginia state flag used by the Confederate army during the Civil War.