In the open race to serve as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) faces-off against Terry McAuliffe (D) and Robert Sarvis (L). The Constitution of Virginia prohibits governors from serving multiple consecutive terms, so incumbent Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) is currently ineligible for reelection.
The office of governor is established by the Constitution of Virginia, and the office holder’s primary duty is to serve as the chief of the commonwealth’s executive branch of government. The governor must report on the state of the commonwealth to the General Assembly, convene the legislature when a special session is called, ensure that state laws are executed properly, and serve as commander-in-chief of the state militia. Additionally, governors have the power to submit recommendations to the General Assembly, veto bills (in whole or in part with a line-item veto), commute fines and issue pardons, and restore voting rights to convicted felons.
Virginia governors must be at least thirty years old, citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and have been a resident and registered voter in the commonwealth for five years preceding the date of the election. They are elected to four-year terms and there are no term limits, although governors are prohibited from serving consecutive terms. Virginia is the only state in the United States that does not allow governors to stand for reelection and serve consecutive terms.
The Republican: Ken Cuccinelli
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R-VA) stands as the Republican candidate for governor. Before being elected attorney general in 2009, he served as a state senator representing the 37th District in Fairfax County, Virginia. As a senator, Cuccinelli has been a strong and consistent supporter of human rights and civil liberties, including the right to life, religious liberty, and the right to bear arms. As attorney general, he has faithfully and consistently applied the laws of the commonwealth without regard for the political consequences—exactly what we should expect from our top law enforcement officer.
In one notable example, Cuccinelli—in response to inquiries from state universities—issued a legal opinion stating that Virginia law does not allow state agencies to include ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected class in their nondiscrimination policies. This became a political hot-potato, and Cuccinelli found himself vilified in the press as some kind of radical, religious nut . . . but lost amid the blather and condemnation was the fact that Cuccinelli was right. Whether the state law is correct, and whether it should be changed, isn’t the issue. Cuccinelli simply stated, clearly and simply, exactly what Virginia law says. Previous attorney generals, both Republican and Democratic, agreed. Rather than hiding from an aggressive media and sidestepping the question, Cuccinelli did his duty and provided a correct legal opinion to the state agencies that had asked for it.
In another controversial case, Cuccinelli attempted to investigate whether Michael Mann, a climate scientist, had falsified data while employed by the University of Virginia. Mann’s infamous ‘hockey stick’ graph—a representation of his reconstruction of global temperatures over a 1,500 year period—has been repeatedly discredited as being full of cherry-picked data and riddled with errors in methodology. Because the graph was developed by a state employee working at a state institution, it is completely within the purview of the state’s executive branch to investigate it . . . especially considering how much impact Mann’s work has had on public reporting, and public policy, relating to Earth’s climate. Incomprehensibly, the University of Virginia and Mann claimed that the attorney general had no right to access Mann’s records. According to the university, state officials have no right to view state-owned information produced by state employees at a state facility. As if that wasn’t absurd enough, the Virginia Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the university. Regardless, Cuccinelli deserves our gratitude for attempting to get to the bottom of Mann’s flawed research—which was, after all, produced on the commonwealth’s dime.
These are two of the many contrived controversies that have dogged the Cuccinelli campaign and, as you can see, there is really nothing to them. Cuccinelli—like any candidate—deserves to be judged fairly on the merits of his actual policy positions, not on the exaggerated caricatures presented to us by his political opponents.
There are four key issues that deserve our focus as we consider our votes for governor, and for the other races and issues before us Virginians in November. First, we must repair and reform our dysfunctional public education system. Second, we must drastically improve and expand our road and transportation networks, especially in the congested northern Virginia and Hampton Roads areas. Third, we must maintain business-friendly policies that foster job growth and economic stability. Fourth, and most importantly, we must choose elected officials who will protect and defend all citizens’ human rights and civil liberties.
The first two are perennial issues that have needed attention for many years, but have been woefully neglected by governors and members of the General Assembly from both major parties. The second two have always been important, but are especially so today as we deal with a long-term economic recession and a burgeoning federal government that is encroaching more and more on Virginians’ rights.
On education, Cuccinelli presents a lengthy and detailed plan that goes far beyond anything any other candidate on the ballot has prepared . . . and, frankly, it says almost nothing. I have said it a thousand times, and I will continue saying it: Our public education system doesn’t need band-aids, it needs a complete, top-to-bottom reform. I wouldn’t dare to say everything that such a reform might include, in part because it needs a lot of serious thought and development, and in part because you don’t want to read a thirty-thousand word essay on education . . . but any candidate that doesn’t start his education policy proposal with some equivalent of, ‘We need to start over and build a new system from scratch,’ is just wasting your time.
Cuccinelli gets partial credit for recognizing that the disparity in school quality between poor (often minority) and rich (often ‘white’) neighborhoods is absolutely inexcusable. He gets a few more points for understanding that part of the solution is allowing parents to decide for themselves what schools their children will attend, up-to and including vouchers to assist parents who choose private or religious schools (although this would require an amendment to the Virginia Constitution), and changing our laws to make it easier to establish charter schools.
On transportation, Cuccinelli presents a number of clear and positive proposals. Under his plan, the state would establish a ‘congestion matrix’—a computer system that would track and rate transportation needs based on empirical data, including population, volume of drivers, volume of cars and trucks, number of businesses, and the age and condition of the road infrastructure. This matrix would be publicly accessible, and would help us to better prioritize our transportation spending.
But foremost in the Cuccinelli transportation plan would be an effort to devolve transportation decisions from the state government down to the local authorities who have a better idea of what really needs to be done. There are existing mechanisms for doing this, but they are insufficiently funded and under utilized. Cuccinelli would also attempt to reduce unnecessary transportation bureaucracy, bring barge access to the Wallops Island space launch facility, reform the broken commercial vehicle weight permitting system, and more.
On business- and job-friendly policies, Cuccinelli proposes reductions in the individual and business income tax rates, the establishment of a tax relief commission for small businesses, and ensuring that the growth of the state government doesn’t exceed the rates of inflation combined with population growth. He also proposes reducing unnecessary energy regulation and exploiting our rich reserves of oil, gas, and coal.
In addition, Cuccinelli proposes a new focus on workforce training. Many businesses are hiring, but have a difficult time finding qualified workers. He proposes efforts to bolster successful workforce training programs in the commonwealth while reallocating money from programs that are less successful. Cuccinelli would also improve Virginia’s veteran training programs, including a proposed modification to state law to allow National Guard troops to use their education/training funds at a broader range of learning institutions.
Lastly, Cuccinelli has a well-established track record of defending Virginians’ human rights and civil liberties. The commonwealth, led by Cuccinelli in his role as attorney general, was the first state to challenge the unconstitutional (cf. Tenth Amendment) Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as ‘ObamaCare.’ He has been a staunch supporter of religious liberty and the right to bear arms. By all accounts, he takes very seriously the limitations imposed on our governments by the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia.
Despite some of the most ghoulish and dishonest criticism from his political opponents, Cuccinelli has remained one of the strongest defenders in Virginia’s government of the fundamental right to life. As a state senator, he has attempted to enact common-sense restrictions on abortion, including parental consent laws, a ban on ‘partial birth’ abortion, and the imposition of basic health and safety restrictions on abortion facilities (to bring them into compliance with the same rules that apply to any other surgical facility). A strong majority of Virginians support these restrictions, and with good reason.
As attorney general, he has dutifully supported Virginia’s laws as-written with regard to abortion, marriage, and other subjects . . . despite constant and vocal criticism from those who would rather ignore the law to suit their personal opinions. This speaks to Cuccinelli’s apparent respect for the rule of law, even when he disagrees with it or faces strong political opposition.
The Democrat: Terry McAuliffe
Terry McAuliffe (D) stands as the Democratic candidate for governor. Before his nomination, he had served as President Bill Clinton’s (D) 1996 campaign co-chairman, chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, and chairman of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s (D) failed 2008 presidential campaign. Before his political involvement with the Democratic Party, McAuliffe had been an entrepreneur, banker, and businessman. If elected governor, this would be McAuliffe’s first elective office.
Perhaps influenced by his many years working national-level political campaigns, McAuliffe has executed the most dishonest, deceptive, and negative campaign that I can recall in Virginia state-level politics—an approach that has apparently influenced down-ticket Democratic candidates like state Senator Mark Herring (D-VA 33rd), who is running a similarly dishonest campaign for attorney general. Negative ads are nothing new, and we have all come to expect political spin, exaggeration, and mud-slinging . . . but McAuliffe’s attacks on his Republican opponent are far beyond-the-pale. They have moved past spin and gamesmanship into the realm of slander and lies—words that I do not use lightly, but use very intentionally here.
The reprehensible level of dishonesty exhibited by the McAuliffe campaign is, in and of itself, enough to disqualify him from office in my view. I am especially offended, on a more personal level, because McAuliffe claims to be a coreligionist of mine. Perhaps McAuliffe should consult with a priest about the meaning of the eighth commandment (and the fifth, for that matter, but I’m getting ahead of myself). I would be happy to arrange an appointment for him; I happen to know several wonderful confessors here in our mutual diocese.
Although somebody’s adherence to a particular religion should not qualify or disqualify him from elective office, it does say something about a candidate’s character when he claims to follow a particular religion but blithely disregards its fundamental teachings. If somebody claimed to be a Buddhist, but simultaneously claimed that war was the solution to the world’s problems, I would question his ability to make coherent moral judgments. Likewise, if one claims to be a Catholic—or any sort of Christian—but has no qualms about lying and misrepresenting his opponent’s political views, it is perfectly appropriate to question whether they can be trusted with the office they are seeking.
Regardless, it is important that we evaluate McAuliffe’s stated positions in the four key areas I identified above. He, like any other candidate, deserves a ‘fair shake.’
First, education. McAuliffe falls prey to the standard talking points about how important it is to increase funding for our schools. Like so many of his fellow Democrats, he seems oblivious to the fact that American schools—and Virginian schools—are among the best funded public schools in the world. Money is not, and never has been, the problem with America’s public education system. We could make cuts—even drastic cuts—to public school funding without any negative impacts, provided that those cuts are paired with a whole-sale, top-to-bottom reform effort.
McAuliffe does point out that our public university tuition rates have skyrocketed, but this is nothing new. My tuition was skyrocketing under the Mark Warner (D-VA) administration. Although I agree that our public universities, which are taxpayer subsidized, should keep tuition rates under control, it is unclear what, if anything, McAuliffe would actually do to solve the problem. ‘Throw more money at it’ is not a valid policy proposal; we need to figure out why tuition rates are inflating so drastically and fix whatever the underlying problem is.
Second, transportation. McAuliffe supports the bipartisan efforts to improve our transportation network that were put into place under incumbent Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA), although he has some disagreements with McDonnell’s plans and claims that he would do even more as governor to improve our transportation network. He says that he will establish clear priorities and focus on those projects that would have the most positive impact.
McAuliffe also claims that he would ‘incentivize’ regional planning and smart growth, since some of our transportation problems are supposedly due to bad planning. That sounds nice, but there are troubling overtones here. Our state and local governments, having taken control of the road and highway network a century ago, have the responsibility to keep pace with development. It is not the government’s place to limit development so that it keeps pace with their slow road build-outs. Developers, like any property owner, have the right to build what they like on their land whenever they want to without state or local government interference. The government needs to build roads as-needed to support them (and the new tax revenue that they will bring).
Third, business and job growth. McAuliffe does reasonably well in this area, unlike some of his down-ticket Democratic Party colleagues. He calls for maintaining the features that make Virginia such a consistently attractive place to do business, including a tradition of minimal government regulation. He is, however, suspiciously silent about our tax rates, and does not call for much-needed tax reductions. And while he is very supportive of alternative energy development, he is also nearly silent about our artificially-restricted gas, oil, and coal industries.
With all of our modern technologies, ‘clean’ energy doesn’t only mean wind and solar anymore. These ‘traditional’ energy sources can also be clean energy sources. Federal efforts to restrict coal energy, in particular, have have a devastating affect on Virginia industry, and it is time that we fight back and recover what is ours.
Fourth and finally, McAuliffe shows an incredible disdain for fundamental human rights and liberty. He supports an unprecedented encroachment on religious liberty that would require religious businessmen—including countless fellow Catholics—to pay for medical procedures that they consider morally objectionable. He euphemistically characterizes the killing of an unborn child as a ‘medical decision’ that has no public moral import. He opposes health and safety regulations that require abortion facilities to meet the same requirements as any other outpatient surgery center.
On many liberty issues—including the right to keep and bear arms—McAuliffe is nearly silent, but the positions he does take, particularly with regard to the fundamental right of every human being to live, are down-right radical and far out of step with the majority of Virginians. Although the commonwealth is not yet prepared to support a full-on personhood amendment—which would simply codify into law the basic biological truth that every conceived human is, indeed, a human being—the people of Virginia are not radical pro-abortionists either. Most support parental consent laws, informed consent laws, restrictions on late-term abortions, and applying reasonable health and safety regulations to abortion facilities.
Although I cannot in good conscience support any candidate that would deny something as fundamental as the right of every human being to live, it is worth noting that McAuliffe is, quite possibly, the most radically pro-abortion candidate to ever appear on a Virginia statewide ballot. Although many of my fellow Virginians have not yet fully understood or embraced the right to life, they should be aware that McAuliffe is far-afield on even the most basic, common-sense restrictions—including many that have been supported by other ‘pro-choice’ candidates.
The Libertarian: Robert Sarvis
There is a third possible choice in the race for Governor of Virginia; Robert Sarvis (L) stands as the Libertarian Party candidate. Sarvis is a northern Virginia native who has worked as an entrepreneur and small business owner, a software engineer, a math teacher, and a lawyer. If elected governor, this would be Sarvis’s first elective office.
Virginia has tended to support centrist candidates for governor, including former governors Doug Wilder (D-VA), Jim Gilmore (R-VA), and Mark Warner (D-VA). This year’s election is somewhat unique in that the Republican Party has fielded a relatively conservative candidate, and the Democratic Party has fielded a relatively liberal one. A significant number of Virginians, moderates at heart, defected from both parties and got behind the only other option: Sarvis.
According to the most recent ‘Real Clear Politics’ polling average, Sarvis comes in at just under ten percent of the prospective vote—extraordinarily high for a third-party candidate in Virginia. According to Quinnipiac University pollsters, Sarvis is drawing voters about equally from Cuccinelli and McAuliffe.
We should evaluate Sarvis’s views on this election’s key issues just as we would any major-party candidate.
First, education. Sarvis presents an interesting and quintessentially libertarian set of proposals in this area, which comes closest to achieving the ‘top-to-bottom reform’ that I keep calling for. He proposes drastic improvements in school choice, allowing parents to choose their school—whether public, private, or home—with a system of tax credits and school vouchers. He also proposes expanding charter schools and eliminating top-down testing requirements like the Standards of Learning (SOL). Sarvis also calls for rewarding quality, not seniority, when setting teacher pay.
Second, transportation. Like Cuccinelli, Sarvis calls for decentralizing our transportation decision-making process. Local officials—those more accountable to their constituents—should be the drivers of transportation policy. However, Sarvis also supports establishing a market-based toll system with congestion pricing and user fees (presumably paired with significant reductions in transportation funding from taxes). This is a typical position among libertarians, but I believe it is a non-starter. Free-access roads and highways are an essential public good, and cannot be reasonably made into a free market (since there is no practical way to allow multiple private-sector road operators to create competing road links between a single point-A and point-B). This is one area where libertarianism sounds good in theory, but would likely fail in practice.
Third, jobs and business. Sarvis would embark on a policy of deregulation, which would greatly benefit Virginian businesses. The free market is incredibly efficient when allowed to operate, but in order to work properly the government must get out of the way. Sarvis calls for rooting out crony capitalism and applying the rule of law, fairly and equitably, to all businesses and individuals. He would also eliminate the car tax, eliminate many other anti-business taxes, and eliminate the income tax and move to a consumption (i.e., sales) tax. Sarvis says that he would generally prefer user fees for specific government services instead of taxes.
Finally, human rights and liberty. One might expect the Libertarian Party candidate to excel in this area, and, in some ways, he does. Sarvis is a staunch supporter of the Ninth and Tenth Amendment limitations on the federal government, and strongly supports returning health care regulation to the states. He would protect the freedom of religion, defend the right to keep and bear arms, reform eminent domain laws, restore the Fourth Amendment, oppose illegal federal spy programs, and restrict the use of law enforcement surveillance.
But Sarvis is depressingly tepid about the fundamental right of every human being to live. He completely cops-out of taking a position, pointing out that it is politically intractable. Perhaps. But whether something is politically intractable has no bearing on moral truth, and the indisputable moral truth is that every single human being—beginning at the moment of their conception—has an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sarvis also opposes common-sense regulation of the health and safety of abortion facilities, as well as informed consent laws that would require that women be shown an ultrasound image of their child before they sign its death warrant.
It is obvious that Terry McAuliffe (D) is entirely unsuited to serve as Governor of Virginia. His reprehensible smear campaign against his main opponent, which has produced some of the most dishonest political ads I have ever seen in a Virginia statewide race, makes it clear that he cannot be trusted. His empty promises on education and transportation confirm this view. His despicable opposition to our most fundamental human rights and liberties eliminates any doubt.
That leaves us with Cuccinelli and Sarvis—and a much more difficult choice.
Sarvis’s campaign is intriguing, and I—ever the independent—am inclined to support third-party candidates. Sarvis clearly proposes the most plausible plan (among those presented to us) for fixing Virginia’s broken education system. He also has the platform that would be most beneficial for Virginia’s businesses and, by extension, job growth. But his transportation policy proposals are non-starters, and his refusal to accept and defend the right to life—the most fundamental of all rights—belies his claims of being the true pro-liberty candidate.
And that leaves us with Cuccinelli, who you might call ‘the lesser of three evils.’ He falls well short of Sarvis on education, and a bit short of him on business and job growth. But Cuccinelli presents the strongest transportation plan and, most importantly, is the only candidate in the race who un-apologetically supports every Virginian’s fundamental human rights, particularly the right to life. Therefore, I endorse the election of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
If Sarvis had been willing to make the principled stand, declaring that all Virginians are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights—including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—then he likely would have won the Off on a Tangent endorsement. But he chose instead to try and avoid the issue, leaving me no choice but to endorse the only candidate who truly respects the rights of all Virginians.