Correction: The article incorrectly said that every candidate for Virginia governor had attended the Shad Planking since at least 1965. In fact, every victorious candidate for governor has attended since then. This version has been updated.
WAKEFIELD, Va. — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, the Republican candidate for governor, said Wednesday that if elected, he would not seek to overturn the transportation funding overhaul passed by the General Assembly.
Cuccinelli has called the $1.4 billion-a-year plan a “massive tax increase” but until now had not said whether he would seek to undo it.
“We’ll work with what we’ve got,” Cuccinelli said when pressed on the question at the 65th annual Shad Planking, in southeastern Virginia.
The attorney general made the comment to reporters after addressing about 1,800 beer-and-fish-filled voters at a Sussex County hunt club. Cuccinelli, under the shade of the pines, had them all to himself since his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, broke with tradition and chose not to attend.
In his speech, Cuccinelli promised to improve the economy and schools, lower taxes, shrink government and work to protect “our most vulnerable citizens.” He went on to discuss his efforts to crack down on child pornographers and human trafficking. He also noted his work helping people with mental illness when he was a lawyer in private practice.
During the legislative session this year, Cuccinelli opposed the transportation package, which would raise $1.2 billion a year from a combination of new statewide and regional tax revenue. About $200 million a year comes from existing state sources. In a legal opinion, he also said the way the original bill would have raised some tax revenue in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads was unconstitutional.
But in the same opinion, Cuccinelli provided a roadmap for resolving those constitutional issues by basing special taxes on not geography, which he said is not allowed, but on other criteria, such as population. Cuccinelli’s campaign has since taken credit for playing a role in saving the bill.
Even before his statement Wednesday, Democrats accused him of trying to have it both ways on the legislation: taking a stand against higher taxes but not saying whether he would try to undo the law, which is likely to be popular in the heavily congested, vote-rich areas of Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
Cuccinelli said Wednesday that since the law passed the General Assembly, it is unlikely that he would be able to repeal it even if he tried. “The same Senate and about the same House? That’s not even possible,” he said when asked if he would try to persuade the legislature to reverse itself.
The Shad Planking gave many voters their first chance to size up the two Republicans running for attorney general and the large field of GOP candidates for lieutenant governor.
Pete Snyder, a technology entrepreneur and former Fox commentator seeking the state’s No. 2 spot, tried to stand out by offering pulled pork from Pete’s Pig Rig. Snyder also gave away beer in 22-ounce cups emblazoned with stickers reading, “Mayor Bloomberg hates this,” a reference to the New York mayor’s campaign against large, fattening drinks.
Neal Jones, of Williamsburg, stopped by the tent where E.W. Jackson, a lieutenant governor hopeful, was holding court and came away thinking the Chesapeake minister shares many of his libertarian views. “I think every American who understands our constitution is a libertarian,” Jackson told him.
Jones, who considers himself a moderate, said he had reservations about Cuccinelli, calling him “too hard-line.” But he was not impressed so far with McAuliffe, either.
“McAuliffe’s not even here to show up for his party,” he said. “That’s the first time in 25 years that I have not seen a gubernatorial candidate show up at the Shad Planking, and I’ve met all of them. I think it’s a crying shame.”
Every victorious candidate for governor has attended the event at least since 1965, and many in the crowd took McAuliffe’s absence as a sign that he and Democrats generally were writing off rural voters. McAuliffe’s campaign said he had a scheduling conflict. He attended the event four years ago.
The event takes its name from the traditional shad dish. The bony fish is nailed to a wooden plank, cooked over hot coals and served to attendees. Regulars at the event say it’s all right, even expected, to disparage the fish, but not the event itself.
“The old joke used to be, you cook shad on the plank and when it was done, you’d throw away the shad and eat the plank,” Cuccinelli consultant Chris LaCivita said.
David “Mudcat” Saunders, a veteran Democratic political strategist who has attended many Shad Plankings but not this year’s, gave a scathing review of the entree. But in the next breath, he expressed surprise that someone running for governor would bow out. “Shad tastes like a wet dog smells,” he said. “Oh, they’re awful. They're bony. It’s awful. But McAuliffe’s not going?”
“It's a cultural event for southeast Virginia, is what it is,” he said. “If it’s going through the crowd that the [darn] Democrats didn’t come because they can’t get rural votes, what’s gonna happen then? They ain’t gonna get rural votes.”