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Since he took office as Virginia attorney general in 2010, Ken Cuccinelli has made national headlines for lawsuits against health care reform and challenging the work of a climate scientist. The tea party favorite joins Kojo in Tampa, Fla., to discuss Virginia’s recently passed voter ID law and the role social issues will play in Election 2012 and 2013.
- Ken Cuccinelli Attorney General, Commonwealth of Virginia (R)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 in Washington and from the studios of WMMF in Tampa, Fla. welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, it is party time and Ken Cuccinelli's got some moves. We'll talk with muck-raking activists who are trying to build a database of all the after-hours parties in Tampa and you'll meet a Washingtonian who is throwing 20 parties in eight days of both cities hosting political conventions this year.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut first, a Republican official familiar to the Washington region who is right in the middle of the national debate shaping the future of the GOP, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is known around the country for waging high profile legal warfare over everything from the Affordable Health Care Act to the Environmental Protection Agency.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHis legal battles have won him the respect of conservatives and Tea Party Republicans far and wide and he's hoping to cash in on the credibility he's built with the party faithful when he's on the ballot next year in Virginia's gubernatorial election. He joins us in studio. Ken Cuccinelli is Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe's a Republican and as we mentioned, a candidate for governor in next year's election, but we didn't know you had some moves. I see you moving to the theme music there.
MR. KEN CUCCINELLIYou put the music on there to get started. I can't help myself.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call to join this conversation. This convention is supposed to be a pep rally of sorts for the party to get behind its presidential nominee, Mitt Romney. You spent a lot of your time for the past two years challenging the constitutionality of a federal health care law that is strikingly similar to the one that Mr. Romney put in place as governor of Massachusetts. How do you go about putting that fight aside to support Romney wholeheartedly and where do you see things in the Romney campaign that you like?
CUCCINELLIWell, for starters, as an attorney general, my primary responsibility is in the area of law and the constitution. And the states can do the kind of compulsion that we saw and that Congress wrote into the Affordable Care Act. Chief Justice Roberts, the only lawyer in America who read the case the way he did, but he's the chief justice with the swing vote and so he converted. He essentially said, you can't compel people in the federal government to buy health insurance, but you can tax them if they don't.
CUCCINELLIAnd the states, however, can compel people under the Constitution to do that. And you know, that's part of the Romney care effort in Massachusetts and like the federal effort, they first went after access. There's three parts, policy parts, to health care. There's quality, cost and access. And both in Massachusetts and at the federal level, they went after access first and in Massachusetts, they've driven down their uninsured to something below 2 percent. But their costs are quite high, in part because the whole system was amended quite a bit as time went on, but that's to be expected.
NNAMDIYou followed this campaign very closely. You even got to serve as moderator for a forum that Fox News held during the primary system, but you never endorsed a candidate. Why not?
CUCCINELLIWell, because, you know, I saw pluses and minuses to all the candidates. I thought they all had strong portfolios to bring to the table and a wide variety, great diversity among them, from a political standpoint. But none of them leapt out for me as being so far and away above the field that I ought to weigh in at the primary level.
CUCCINELLIAnd obviously, I'm supporting Mitt Romney now and Paul Ryan, who I personally think was a great addition to the ticket. I'm very excited about Paul Ryan as someone I both like and respect and that combination is rare enough in Washington.
CUCCINELLIAnd I think he converts this campaign into a reality-based campaign. He's the one guy, more than anybody else of either party, executive branch or legislative branch that has faced head on, whether you like his solutions or not, he's actually put solutions on the table.
CUCCINELLIAnd he is the only one in either party to go to the level of detail he has and for Mitt Romney to pick him tells me that Romney is willing to have the wrestling match over those debates about entitlement reform and so forth in the next 70 days plus and presumably with the goal of coming out of this election with not merely a win, but a mandate.
NNAMDIThe impression I'm getting is that you would have been supporting the Republican Party's nominee either way, but that your level of enthusiasm has been ramped up by his selection of Paul Ryan. That your level of support might have been, oh, maybe, lukewarm were this not the case.
CUCCINELLII don't know about lukewarm, but...
NNAMDIThat was my word.
CUCCINELLI...yeah, I understand. I see severe consequences to the president's ongoing assault on the rule of law and massive expansion of the power of the federal government at the expense of liberty and the economy. And I think Romney certainly is capable of countering that.
NNAMDIBut with Paul Ryan countering, even better?
CUCCINELLIBut you're absolutely right. My enthusiasm level has bumped up, as have a lot of other Republicans with the addition of Paul Ryan. And, you know, let's compare him to four years ago when Sarah Palin was picked. You know, a lot of conservatives really liked Sarah Palin, but let's face it, there were some huge downsides to that pick.
CUCCINELLIAnd if you think that -- if Paul Ryan has a downside, it's that he has been so blunt. He has been so upfront. He has been so willing to put his name on specific solutions, whether they're the ultimate solution that is adopted by everyone or not. He's been willing to step out and touch what had previously been thought to be third rails .
CUCCINELLIAnd that frankly takes a degree a moral courage that no one in either party has shown to the degree he has in addressing the budget issues that confront America.
NNAMDIOur guest is Ken Cuccinelli. We're coming to you live from Tampa where the Republican National Convention is taking place. Ken Cuccinelli is the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. If you'd like to have a question or a comment for the attorney general, call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIYou told an audience at the conservative red state gathering in Florida earlier this month, quoting here, "You want to elect people you don't have to lobby." What do you mean by that? And what gives you the confidence that conservatives will not have to lobby Romney on important issues?
CUCCINELLII don't mean necessarily that there will be an absence of lobbying. First of all, let's start with your question, what did I mean by that.
CUCCINELLII mean, that when you have a choice from the beginning of the process -- and remember I was talking to a bunch of bloggers, new media, some activists and those types of folks from the conservative side of the spectrum. And my comment was intended to mean elect people who you don't have to then hound in office to do the principled thing. And that's what I mean by elect people you don't have to lobby.
CUCCINELLIAnd Jim DeMint has written a great, you know, op-ed, I suppose, where one comment he makes, it's a suggestion he makes to incoming legislators, which I think is brilliant having been a legislator, is don't want anything. Don't want anything.
CUCCINELLIIf you don't want anything, the powers that be have nothing to hold over your head. Just come in there to do the best you can and apply the best solutions you can come up with to the problems confronting America. In the case of, you know, the United States, for me it would be Virginia, for equivalent legislators.
CUCCINELLIBut I think that approach is very important, but it doesn't mean that everybody you get as your ultimate candidates necessarily fits in that category, but you know, every election is graded on a curve. And we have two basic options here, re-elect President Barack Obama president of the United States or elect Governor Romney president of the United States, each with their vice presidential choice, and on that curve, Mitt Romney gets a very high grade for me.
NNAMDINationwide, people are pretty focused on remarks that Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Missouri, made about abortion and whether exceptions should be made for rape and incest. But in Virginia, you caused a stir earlier this summer when you refused to certify new regulations for abortion clinics that were eased back from earlier rules that basically would have classified clinics as hospitals, making it harder for them to exist and operate. What was your reason for doing that?
CUCCINELLIWell, going to your question, the reason wasn't because -- the regulations earlier classified them as hospitals. It's that the statute they were implementing, the law, classified them as hospitals. That was where the problem was and laws trump regulations. Our decision was as simple as that.
CUCCINELLIIs that they had left out a part of what the law called for and, you know, boards that implement regulations don't have the authority in Virginia or typically anywhere else to override laws passed by legislatures and that was the basis of our decision there. It was nothing more complicated than that.
NNAMDIGovernor McDonnell shares the party's platform committee. What do you think the party's official position ought to be when it comes to abortion and pregnancies caused by rape or incest?
CUCCINELLIYou know, we've had the same platform position, I think, since 1984 and I haven't seen the final verbiage of this year's, but my understanding is it's going to stay pretty much the same as it's been for the better part of those 30 years, 28 years, I guess. And you know, I'm happy to be part of a party that pronounces up front that it respects human life and is going to work to protect it.
CUCCINELLIAnd I think in a national party platform, that's an appropriate thing to put in there. It's somewhat aspirational because of the nature of where constitutional law stands today. But issues will arise, even at both the regulatory level and at the legal level, by which I mean laws or bills that come before a president Romney, if he should get elected, that are going to call for making decisions that are going to be either more protective of life or less.
CUCCINELLIAnd to have a platform that my sense is both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are in agreement with. The concept is there, including the pro-life plank is something that I think is worth setting down so...
NNAMDISorry. Are you comfortable with exceptions for rape, incest and saving the life of the mother?
CUCCINELLII'm comfortable with the language that we've had for, in our platform for 28 years. I think that respect for human life is something that we all ought to have, especially the innocent side. You know, the only time life is supposed to be able to be taken is after due process of law and that happens in Virginia. It doesn't happen in the rest of your listening area.
CUCCINELLIBut you know, when we look at a whole party and all the different people that have to come under the umbrella, I think that maintaining our position as a pro-life party, but not driving down on too many specifics, is a perfectly reasonable approach to take. I think that's one that Governor McDonnell is supportive of as a platform chair and, you know, that's a tough position to undertake for either party to be there.
CUCCINELLIAnd so he was doing some tough duty there and it's always harder to fight amongst your friends than people who you perceive as opponents or competitors and he slogged his way through that. My sense is while there were some disagreements they were much more muted than they've been in some years past.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the phones. Here is Gary in Sterling, Va. Gary you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYGood afternoon, Mr. Cuccinelli. I'm curious what is so sanctified about enabling a single mother to have fetal alcohol syndrome children, children with ADD, and children with assorted life-challenging issues? I mean, I just cannot see the common sense in it.
NNAMDII think we lost that caller for a second there. Gary, are you still there?
NNAMDIGary -- we're having some trouble getting Gary. Gary, can you -- I'll put you on hold and...
CUCCINELLII think I got the thrust of it.
NNAMDIOkay. Well then, go ahead.
CUCCINELLIThanks for your question, Gary. Gary, you started by saying why do we let a mother, and you described her in a variety of ways as, you know, alcohol problems, other things, have children. And I would fundamentally say that your question assumes that the children are blamed for whatever condition the mother may have, whether it's voluntary on her part or involuntary. And since they're separate human beings, it seems to me they ought to be -- and among the most vulnerable amongst us, it seems to me they ought to be treated that way and with the same respect we'd show any other human life.
CUCCINELLIAnd I recognize that, you know, a mother in the circumstances you described can face significant challenges when raising a child. But I certainly hope that she would look at adoption and look at the various agencies we have in Virginia I know to help her through that particular time and get back on her feet. Certainly, we'd rather be sharing love with that child than snuffing it out. And whether the mother is in a difficult situation or not shouldn't reflect on whether the child deserves to live or not.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Gary. Do you think Todd Akin should stay in the race? Everyone from the candidate to the Chairman of the R&C to John McCain, the party's last presidential nominee, has said it's best for him to step aside for the good of the party. What say you?
CUCCINELLIYeah, you know, I don't think in terms of the good of the party. I mean, well, the party exists for other reasons and I don't agree with every Republican in the world or really any Republican in the world all the time. But I think that Todd Akin probably severely, severely misspoke. And I'm somebody who worked with sexual assault victims for a number of years over the course of my adulthood, and have a great deal of concern and sympathy for what a remark like that means to other people, particularly those who've been the victims of sexual assault.
CUCCINELLIAnd, you know, I think through people I know and -- it's terrible to contemplate how that -- to say an irritant is a dramatic understatement. It can be really painful to hear that sort of discussion. And I think whether you think it's unfair or not, I think that Todd Akin has likely defeated himself and that he has brought a very poor construction on several critical issues, first of all, sexual assault, which I mentioned, also the life issue and I think he should step down and get out of the race.
CUCCINELLIAnd that may, to some of his supporters, not seem like a fair thing, but life ain't fair and this is the reality. And unfortunately, I think he's done a great deal of harm. And I don't think he can fix that and I think he should just stay on the side. And I would note for you, and this is pure coincidence, that yesterday I heard his daughter speak, which I had no idea that was going to happen. She was an extraordinarily caring, compassionate individual and, you know, that doesn't happen absent some upbringing that emphasizes that for a child. Her three brothers, she noted, are all marines.
CUCCINELLIThere's a lot of good going on in that family, but I think that reality is reality. And whether it's fair or not, I think Todd Akin should step back and step down.
NNAMDIBut he has been such a stalwart in the prolife cause. He essentially shares the same view that you have.
CUCCINELLIOh, well, it sure didn't sound like it in that interview.
NNAMDIExcept for that terrible mistake -- that he calls it a mistake, the terrible statement that he made. But on the subject of stepping aside, the Republican Party used to be known for having pretty rigid discipline from the top to the bottom. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says he didn't run for the U.S. Senate some years ago because he got a call from former Vice-President Dick Cheney urging him to clear the way for the candidate that he preferred, Norm Coleman.
CUCCINELLIThat tells me a lot about Tim Pawlenty.
CUCCINELLII -- you know, I am not a supporter of stepping aside. I mean...
NNAMDII was about to say.
CUCCINELLI...that goes back to the earlier comment about, you know, electing people that you don't have to lobby. You know, it is important that elected officials independently consider questions before them, regardless of what party they're in. If all we're doing is electing what amounts to a quasi parliamentary system where you just have two teams and that's it and no individuals, I think that's contrary to the American history. And by that, I mean the good part of our political history.
CUCCINELLIThat independence is important. It also creates all sorts of opportunities for people on both sides of the aisle to work on many different issues with one another. We're still basically a two-party nation. Other strings of thought are constantly swirling about and I also think that's healthy. But if you don't encourage the maintenance of that independence you really -- you end up with a worse situation in Washington and state capitols.
NNAMDIYou saw where I was going before I got there because some would say you're challenging the party brass by jumping to the gubernatorial race against Bill Bolling, a candidate who has been...
CUCCINELLIIt wasn't my turn.
NNAMDI...well, waiting his turn to run for four years. How do you see it?
CUCCINELLIYou know, just on the Republican side, our folks talk all the time about being for free markets and free competition. Well, we need to practice what we preach. And, you know, nothing more complicated than that. And while I think there's an expectation that the lieutenant governor was the shoe-in as the nominee, he's going to have to earn it now. And the truth of the matter is, if the people of Virginia want the lieutenant governor as their Republican nominee, you know what, they're gonna get him 'cause I've got no claim on this process.
CUCCINELLIAnd frankly, he has a several years head start on me. We gotta play catch up. We have a convention in the middle of next May, presumably in Richmond. I think that our grassroots support and my, frankly, engagement on a wide variety of issues has encouraged a lot of grassroots activists to come to our aid and will show up for us in May. And I expect to be the Republican nominee and we'll probably have quite an interesting battle.
CUCCINELLIFor those of you in the media, you know, Terry McAuliffe, Ken Cuccinelli, Val -- you know, that's gotta look pretty good to you, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt certainly does. Ken Cuccinelli the attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He is our guest this hour. We move on to Sidi (sp?) in Alexandria, Va. Sidi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SIDIYes. I actually have some questions. My first question is regard to the health care. My question is really the principle behind the health care law. I understand the argument the state has the right to tax all of their citizens to buy a bunch of their programs. And -- but what's the difference if the federal government does the same thing? And I also don't understand they usually use the old idea of like the Founding Fathers intent of the law. They both have examples of where the federal government has been wrong like civil rights, you know, women's right.
SIDIAnd have changed -- have changed the law and everybody accept it and move on. So I was wondering, what's the difference in principle between the state and the federal government on the health care law. And secondly also, the second question...
NNAMDIWell, first, one question at a time. Now, one question at a time 'cause...
CUCCINELLIYou got a lot in there, Sidi. You got a lot in there. First of all, the state -- why the state can do this and the federal government can't. The way the federal government got its power was a grant of specific powers from the people and from the states. And that's called enumerated powers. If one of those enumerated powers is not written in the constitution, then the federal government can't do it, whatever it is. In this case, it's compelling people to buy a product.
CUCCINELLIThe states can do it because all other powers were left to the states and the people. And the people -- and what that means, states and the people is the people in each state, Virginia, Maryland, et cetera, get to define how much of that remaining power the state keeps and how much the people keep to themselves. But the federal government was not granted any authority or power to compel people to buy a product for any reason.
CUCCINELLINow, I have to comment. You referred to that old idea -- your words, old idea from the Founders that we should, you know, do what the constitution says. And I have to tell you that people who think the constitution is just some sort of old idea, are the people trying to wipe it out. Now this is 100 years old. That's what progressives tried to do through the legitimate process of amendment and so forth. Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, many others, both parties. And they tried to undo the constitutional moorings of this country.
CUCCINELLIAnd one of the things that happened in that health care case is that the supreme court said, in fact, the federal government does not have the power to compel you to buy things, whether you want them or not. And you also mentioned, by the way, women's rights which passed thanks to Republican support and Republican states which passed it. The Democrats opposed that and so women got the right to vote largely through the efforts of Republicans. So that was the first ability for them to exercise their rights independently of men. And you can thank your local Republicans for that.
NNAMDIHow much do you plan to campaign with Romney or Paul Ryan in Virginia this fall?
CUCCINELLIWell, you know, I grew up in Virginia. I've lived here my whole life except about two years. And we are in a position that has never happened before. We're a swing state. We have never, by ordinary standards, mattered a whole lot to the outcome. People always assumed we'd land in the Republican column until Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008. And so now we're up for grabs and we're getting candidates from both sides every week in Virginia, which is -- it is nice to have...
NNAMDIYour importance has expanded.
CUCCINELLIIt has. You know, nobody has a lot of doubt about where D.C.'s electoral votes will go or Maryland's electoral votes will go. But Virginians are very much up for grabs. And I've been out there most recently with Paul Ryan in my old state senate district in Fairfax County at West Springfield high school. Was with Mitt Romney in Lowden County before that and I expect to campaign with them in all sorts of parts of the state. And they're going to be there a lot. We're going to get a lot of attention.
NNAMDIBut if it's up for grabs, you've got to win over moderate Republicans and independent voters. How do you plan on doing that?
CUCCINELLIWell, you've got to have some of everything. You've got to have most of your Republican base. You've got to win most of the independence. And you still need to be talking to -- to convince some Democrats to come over. And I think that there's an awful lot that Romney's been doing to do that. You know, the most recent ABC Washington Post poll showed that Obama's doing worse than John Carey among -- in 2004 among both married and single women.
CUCCINELLISo this -- the rhetoric aimed at suggesting that Romney who -- it's kind of hard to paint as a hard right winger -- you know, is somehow associated with any war on women doesn't seem to be having any effect that's showing up in polling. And I think independents are still open to Romney, meaning more favorable to him than the incumbent...
NNAMDIAre you suggesting that it's easier to paint you as a hard right winger than it is Mitt Romney?
CUCCINELLINo, I'm not suggesting that at all, especially since Virginians have known me for over ten years. But I think that there's a steady improvement on the part of Obama -- I'm sorry, on the part of Romney even after Obama spent tens of millions if not clearing a hundred million dollars this summer basically with character assassination type political ads, while Romney didn't have the money to respond.
CUCCINELLIOne thing that will happen tomorrow with the nomination will be that there on the other half of this spending ledger they have in federal election law where Romney can start spending their post primary money. Of course in the primary he had to spend most of it on the primary. Obama spent most of it on Romney. And -- but in the stretch I think Romney's going to outspend the president, which is not something anybody expected. And while this whole summer with that enormous beating that Romney took without being able to effectively answer, he really didn't lose anything in the polls.
CUCCINELLISo now we add Paul Ryan and reality-based campaigning and we're going to be talking about entitlements and what it means for future generations with Romney in a position to go toe to toe with the president.
NNAMDIYou've got to go, but you seem to have been enjoying yourself way too much here.
CUCCINELLII always enjoy myself with you, Kojo. What are you talking about?
NNAMDIYour time is up. Ken Cuccinelli is attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He's a Republican and a candidate for governor in next year's elections in Virginia. Thank you so much for dropping by. Good to see you (unintelligible) .
CUCCINELLIKojo, it was a pleasure.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with muck raking activists who are trying to build a database of all the after hour parties in Tampa and the Washingtonian throwing 20 parties in 80 days at which you'll probably see Ken Cuccinelli dancing at least at one of those parties. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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