IT’S EASY TO make the case — and we will, at a later date — that Ken Cuccinelli II, the attorney general of Virginia, already has done a lot to politicize the office he holds, and thereby diminish its status. Nonetheless, Mr. Cuccinelli seems intent on going a step further.
Having announced his intention to run for governor, Mr. Cuccinelli (R) is bucking more than 60 years of bipartisan Virginia history by refusing to do the right thing and resign. Instead, he is insisting on remaining the state’s top lawyer “until the last day of my term,” even as he holds fundraisers, attends events and campaigns for governor. Thus Mr. Cuccinelli will inevitably further politicize his office, adding a partisan cast to every significant move it makes.
Since the 1940s, 10 of Virginia’s 11 elected attorneys general have run for governor, and nine of them have resigned to do so. The past four, including Mr. Cuccinelli’s elected predecessor — the current governor, Robert F. McDonnell — were Republicans; the ones before that were Democrats.
The lone attorney general who remained in office as he ran for governor was Republican J. Marshall Coleman, 30 years ago. He at least had the decency to cut his pay in half in recognition of his divided attentions. Mr. Coleman, criticized as a part-timer in a full-time job, was defeated.
If Mr. Cuccinelli’s intent is to invite cynicism and cast ill repute on the position he holds and the office over which he presides, he is doing a bang-up job.
In a letter to his staff, he attributed his decision to the fact that “the people of Virginia trusted me to be their attorney general, and I intend to give them four full years.” If so, they may also have taken him at his word — frequently stated while he campaigned — that he intended to run in 2013 for reelection as attorney general, which he described as his dream job. It turns out he didn’t mean it.
Now he pledges to give priority to his current job, and Virginians will have to hope that his legal decisions will not be colored by his candidacy.