Virginia’s firebrand Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli has counseled that former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, acted legally in 2006 when he decided to transfer the Dulles Toll Road and oversight of the Dulles rail project to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Cuccinelli’s opinion is remarkable on several levels. For starters, Cuccinelli is a hard-right politician who has not been above using his office for a political spear, as he has shown by hounding a former University of Virginia scientist over his global warming views. This time, Cuccinelli seemed to play it straight, advising that while the governor “has no express authority” to shift oversight for the toll road, statutes give the state’s top executive lots of leeway to handle transportation.
The second curiosity of his opinion is that it was requested by an even more hard-core conservative, Del. Robert G. Marshall, with whom Cuccinelli has before played political footsie regarding such legal opinions. Not this time.
But wait! It gets weirder still. Cuccinelli is running for governor; Marshall for the U.S. Senate. The state GOP had planned on making much political hay out of Kaine’s decision to shift one of the nation’s biggest and most important public works projects to the MWAA, which right-wingers love to paint as corrupt and dominated by labor. Cuccinelli’s advice that Kaine did nothing legally wrong takes the wind out of that sail.
To be sure, MWAA deserves scrutiny. Federal investigators have found that the agency has spent lavishly, including paying for a $9,200 plane ticket to Prague. MWAA has also been criticized for pushing to build an underground Metro station at Dulles that would have added hundreds of millions to the cost of the rail project. (The authority later reversed itself.)
Even so, the anti-MWAA drumbeat by Virginia’s conservatives is disconcerting. If followed to its logical conclusion, the critique would likely mean no rail service at all to Dulles, which in this day and age seems so antiquated.
One can’t know if Cuccinelli’s MWAA advisory was politically motivated in itself — that is, designed to reset Cuccinelli as a moderate in anticipation of his gubernatorial race. But if that is the case, it is a very interesting development, indeed.