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SoVaNow.com / August 14, 2013With the opening of school less than a week away, the unofficial end of summer is upon us. With apologies to James Taylor, I’ll miss the days of fire and rain when they’re gone. Till then, some parting thoughts:
The award for head-slapping moment of the week has to go to Bob McDonnell’s P.R. and legal defense team, which decided for some odd reason to go after Jonnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific and McDonnell family benefactor, as the disreputable figure in the gift-giving scandal that threatens to bring down the governor. Until recently, McDonnell maintained that Williams was a close personal friend — the proffered explanation, however unlikely, for why Williams would lavish more than $160,000 in gifts and loans on McDonnell and family. (We should all have such buddies.) Last week, the governor’s defenders suddenly shifted gears, with spokesman Rich Galen ripping federal prosecutors for giving Williams “a free pass” despite being “in trouble with government entities since the earliest days of his business career.”
Apparently, McDonnell has finally come around to the conclusion that pretty much the rest of the world reached long ago about Star Scientific and its colorful CEO. Why the change of heart? It took all of about two seconds for wags to connect Team McDonnell’s broadside with the other big news of the week involving Star: The company issued a statement saying it does not expect to face criminal prosecution as a result of investigations by a U.S. Attorney’s office. The company also said it has been cooperating in “any and all of the matters” the feds may be looking into.
You don’t need to be a fan of the hit TV show “CSI: Richmond” to get the sense that perhaps the governor is feeling the law bearing down on him. His legal team’s decision to attack Williams, so quickly after Star Scientific dropped ominous hints that Williams may be dishing to prosecutors, emboldened speculation that McDonnell could face criminal charges before his term is out. Sure, it’s no more than speculation. But how exactly does the governor go from being close friends with Williams to intimating he’s a sleazy businessman? Sure seems to me like McDonnell’s lawyers are attempting to preempt any testimony Williams potentially could offer against the governor, as if such a move is going to deter any self-respecting federal prosecutor.
As for Williams, we know he has spent oodles of money to win the favor of McDonnell and family (especially First Lady Maureen, who looks terriblest of all in this farce). We also know he has showered gifts and donations on Ken Cuccinelli, now running for governor on the Republican ticket. But before he became a figure of national renown, Williams was merely the fellow who was going to give Southside a shot in the arm by popularizing low-carcinogen cigarettes that would be made, in part, in Chase City. 300 jobs promised; very few ever delivered. (Star has since ditched its Chase City operation). Even in the early days, however, Williams evinced a talent for wooing politicians. Little known trivia: Williams made his first campaign contribution, of $1,000, back in 1999 when then-Star Tobacco was getting established in Southside Virginia. The recipient of his largesse? None other than our own state senator, Frank Ruff.
If the traditional pattern holds, in about a month or two people may start paying attention to the governor’s race. Until then, assuming you’re in silent majority, consider yourself lucky. Working for a newspaper, I get the daily stream of attack e-mails coming in from all sides. If you didn’t particularly care for the candidates beforehand, you’d really despair of the race after being exposed to this drivel.
To me, the choice is the race is ABC-level easy: Anybody But Cuccinelli. (Nothing else in the universe could possibly explain the existence of the Terry McAuliffe for Governor campaign.) I will grant this much to McAuliffe, however: He’s right on the two issues that are most important to me: expansion of Medicaid and uranium mining. By supporting the former, McAuliffe would help to bring health coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginians, at minimal cost to the state. Regarding the latter issue, uranium mining, McAuliffe has stated his unambiguous opposition. I can certainly support any candidate on such grounds. (The same would have been true for Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling had he entered the race.)
Cuccinelli, on the other hand, is clearly leaning in the other direction on uranium mining. The GOP standard bearer was in Danville two weeks ago where he offered a number of encouraging statements for the folks at Virginia Uranium Inc. First, Cuccinelli said he held “a balanced position” on mining. And what might that mean? “I think we need to proceed with regulations that will ultimately lead to uranium mining and milling,” he continued, as reported by the Danville Register & Bee. “If you’re going to be someone like me, and have an all-of-the-above energy policy, you can’t just say no, never under any circumstances.”
“Never under any circumstances”? “Ultimately lead to mining and milling”? Cuccinelli has an interesting conception of the word “balance.” The candidate ought to do the English language a favor and just state his support outright without relying on such poll-tested buzzwords. Indeed, “balance” is probably the last entry in the dictionary that you’d use to describe Cuccinelli. One thing everyone should know: If Ken Cuccinelli is elected governor, Virginia is in for four long years of culture-politics warfare and ideological extremism, with Virginia’s Chief Executive missing no opportunity to pick fights with an eye towards securing a nightly spot on Fox News.
This is not a man who can be counted on to moderate his positions, as anyone who has followed Cuccinelli’s performance as attorney general can attest. He’s spent the past four years wasting taxpayer dollars suing the federal government over Obamacare, the University of Virginia over academic research, and otherwise meddling in matters where he has no business. (The privacy of your bedroom being a prime example.) Ken Cuccinelli in the Governor’s Mansion would provide a major boost to the uranium mining industry and pose a severe threat to Southside’s environment. Why take the chance?