Cuccinelli Basks in Richmond's Warmer Climate
Just a few months back, while still on the campaign trail, Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R-Fairfax) was eager to talk about transportation, taxes, schools and development -- meaty issues that nicely turned voters' attention away from his reputation as the Virginia Senate's leading voice for conservative social policy.
Cuccinelli's campaign strategy of emphasizing his hard stance against expansive state spending worked, even in a district that's trending Democratic. He won reelection, swimming against a Democratic tide in Northern Virginia. But now he's back in Richmond, back among friends who appreciate and relish the real Ken Cuccinelli.
"I come to you as the only conservative on the Senate side from Northern Virginia," Cuccinelli told a meeting of the Family Foundation, the lobby that fights in Richmond against abortion, no-fault divorce, embryonic stem cell research and pornography. The crowd responded with warm applause, leading the senator to quip, "I can't get this in Fairfax."
Cuccinelli told the friendly audience that he was here to stand tall on "abortion bills and the fight over the homosexual agenda," a phrase he used five times in a 10-minute talk.
The senator focused on his effort to turn back Virginia's no-fault divorce law with a bill that would eliminate automatic divorce for couples with children, requiring the consent of both partners before a marriage could be legally ended. "If you are sued for divorce in Virginia, there's virtually nothing you can do to stop it," he said. "This law has everything to do with the breakdown of the family. The state says marriage is so unimportant that if you just separate for a few months, you can basically nullify the marriage.
"What we're trying to do is essentially repeal no-fault divorce when there are children involved."
Cuccinelli knows he's hardly likely to win this time. "We're the Giants up against the Patriots," he said last week, when that meant something rather different. But his effort is what counts to the Family Foundation crowd, which included state Attorney General Bob McDonnell and several other legislators.
But in the Senate, where Cuccinelli is often the sole no vote on bills that pass 39 to 1, his true-believer approach to politics leaves his colleagues flat. "Cuccinelli -- he could be here 2,000 years and he'd never change," says Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, a Fairfax Democrat. "I mean, he's the Jesse Helms of this operation."
Saslaw sees Cuccinelli as a prime example of the kind of social conservative who is too willing to appeal to voters by tapping into popular discomfort with an outsider group in society. "It's been pretty fashionable around here for the past four or five years to pound gays into the ground," Saslaw says. "Now it's immigrants. When they get done with them, it'll be someone else. They make their living on that."
But although Cuccinelli has introduced some of the tougher bills aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants from living in Virginia, he says he is not as driven by that issue as some of his colleagues. "It's not the be-all, end-all for me," he says. "It is an issue, but not the top issue."
Cuccinelli told the Family Foundation that the ranks of conservatives who still focus on the social issues are quite small in the state Senate, with but six conservatives among 19 Republican senators. That's a tally many on the other side of the aisle would find all too stinting. But Cuccinelli said all is not lost. Despite the Democrats taking back the Senate this year, a few Democrats support the right on social issues. "And on the homosexual agenda," the senator said, "we will sometimes get members of the Black Caucus with us."
"Your prayers strengthen us," Cuccinelli said, telling about his effort to defeat a resolution expressing support for a Richmond gay organization. "When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul."
And with that, the senator stepped out into the unusually balmy Richmond night, ready for the next battle.