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SoVaNow.com / September 12, 2013Before going any further, here’s a philosophical question: How exactly is that whole “Now I’m going to undo the damage I’ve done” business supposed to work anyway?
The question has taken on new urgency with the decision by Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s current Attorney General and would-be governor, to donate $18,000 to charity as a way of washing his hands of tetchy gifts (valued in the same amount) from businessman and political donor Jonnie Williams, CEO of Star Scientific. Cuccinelli, spooked by the polls that show him lagging in the gubernatorial race, probably figured he needed to do more than he’s done so far to nullify the damage from the Star scandal. Until this week, Cuccinelli had a ready answer whenever critics challenged him on the gifts: how does one go about giving back a catered Thanksgiving dinner (estimated value: $1,500) or box of dietary supplement pills ($6,500) without rolfing all over someone’s suit? Of course, Cuccinelli offered a more delicate construction: “There are some bells you can’t unring.”
To quote the TV commercial tag line: “Priceless.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Jeff Shapiro, writing in his Wednesday column, characteristically nailed the matter, suggesting Cuccinelli is only now acting after having “his bell rung in public-opinion polls that suggest voters view him as untrustworthy and unlikeable.” That pretty much says it all. The basic storyline in the Virginia governor’s race is that no one much wants either candidate, but one of them has to win, so the challenge is figuring out which is worse. That Cuccinelli would be losing the race to transparent hack Terry McAuliffe tells you all you need to know about how Virginians view Cuccinelli (and the utterly disgraced Bob McDonnell) for their involvement in the Star affair.
In this light, I suspect Cuccinelli has made a horrible mistake by choosing to even revisit the controversy, albeit in an attempt to defuse it. The GOP candidate revealed his decision in a two-minute video distributed by his campaign over the Internet. (I’m interested to know if anyone else found Cuccinelli’s taped mea culpa as painful to watch as I did.) Cuccinelli gave only two interviews after the video’s release, one being to a Richmond TV station in which he declared that accepting Williams’ largesse in the first place was “certainly not unethical.” Then why is he giving the money to charity? What did Cuccinelli figure he would get out of this lame attempt to put the question to rest, when all he’s done is inspire 10 new ones?
Moral of the story: There are many things in life I’ll never understand.
The Cuccinelli-McAuliffe mudbath has drowned out the downticket races, although there, too, the Republican Party has opted to field extremist candidates in the mold of the man at the top of the ticket. E.W. Jackson, who is running for lieutenant governor, is even more unlikeable than Cuccinelli, and thoroughly unqualified to serve in public office, which is something you can’t really say about Cuccinelli. In the Attorney General’s race, by contrast, the two candidates are both state senators: Mark Herring, a Northern Virginia Democrat, and Mark Obenshain, a Shenandoah Valley Republican.
The Obenshain name carries weight in Virginia politics — the AG candidate’s father was Richard Obenshain, who did as much as anyone to empower the conservative wing of the Virginia Republican Party before his untimely death in a plane crash in 1978 — and Mark Obenshain is a credible candidate in ways that E.W. Jackson never will be. However, Obenshain has done things to place himself outside of the political mainstream, including sponsoring legislation that would have required women who had miscarriages without medical attention to report the matter to authorities within 24 hours or face criminal charges. Alas, the race for Attorney General race will be settled by a much more basic issue: the fact that not many people know much about either candidate. Once you accept this dynamic, it becomes easier to understand how Ken Cuccinelli won as Attorney General four years ago.
Of all the candidates on the November ticket, the one I like best is the Democrat running for lieutenant governor, Norfolk state Sen. Ralph Northam. Notably, Northam has helped to lead the opposition to uranium mining — urging from the get-go that Virginia keep its mining moratorium, and pushing back against party bigfoots like Dick Saslaw who were (and are) sympathetic to Virginia Uranium Inc.’s cause — although he’s top-notch on important issues across-the-board. A pediatric neurologist and former Army doctor, Northam speaks with particular authority on matters of public health. He’s also established a reputation as a bridge-builder in the Senate, a key qualification for lieutenant governor, since the chief responsibility of the office is to preside over the Senate. Northam’s hometown paper, the Virginian Pilot, wrote this week in endorsing Northam’s candidacy that he “is far and away the better choice for Virginia. Indeed, he is the best candidate running for statewide office this November.” Yup.
Cheap cynicism to the contrary, there are good people in politics, and Northam is one of them. If only he were running for governor ….
Other things I’m thinking these days:
I think the School Board has done a pretty good job dealing the mold problem at Halifax County High School. The response has not been perfect — anytime a problem like this crops up, there’s a tendency to want to paper over or move too quickly beyond the complaints, in no small part because it’s difficult to get a grasp on the range of different individual reactions. (Case in point: The bread with my turkey sandwich was a tad on the fungus-y side last week. I ate it anyway.) Obviously, there are people who truly struggle during a mold outbreak, and others for whom the perception is the problem, but each reaction deserves a prompt and careful response. The school division must maintain a sense of diligence, though, before the apprehension and fear (and actual sickness) will go away. Until next time.
I think it’s unrealistic at the present moment to talk about replacing the high school building, but that doesn’t mean the idea doesn’t merit discussion— mold or no mold. There’s a great deal of kvetching that goes on about the inexorable decline and death of Halifax County, which I think is overwrought. But I think this, too: The failure to reinvest in the community is a sure way to prove the naysayers correct. I think we’re also coming to realize that the bunker-style architecture that was popular in the ‘70s was no more designed to stand the test of time than the Ford Pinto.
I think it’s very smart for the Virginia Coalition to ramp up their fund-raising machine now in anticipation of another fight over uranium mining in the General Assembly next year. John Cannon, chairman of the Coalition, informs me that the Virginia Coalition fund-raiser Friday night in Clarksville raised somewhere around $8,000 to $10,000, a solid sum indeed. The Coalition has another big fund-raiser coming up, this time at Virginia International Raceway’s Gallery building, on Oct. 11. Last year’s event, at the farm of Del. James Edmunds, was a rousing success. Here’s hoping the sequel is even better.