Today, the Virginia statehouse, tomorrow, the White House. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has ambition for higher office oozing out of every pore. Moreover, this extremely conservative politician has already established himself as a Tea Party favorite on the national stage.
Cuccinelli may be just a state official, but he has spent much of his two years as attorney general relentlessly challenging the Obama Administration through some high profile lawsuits on national issues ranging from the validity of the global warming threat to the merits of the president's healthcare reforms. He has drawn further national attention by taking a leading role in campaigning for another rising young star in the Tea Party firmament, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
Is the 42-year-old Cuccinelli, with gubernatorial aspirations for a starter, representative of the Republican Party in the coming decade? From an environmental perspective, one hopes not, because here is what you get. He is a politician who has it totally backwards, declaring that "economic growth underwrites environmental regulation." It's true that ideally, the two eventually complement each other, but a healthy environment is the foundation for long term sustainable economic prosperity, not the other way around. There are instances where economic growth has preceded environmental cleanup and flourished at its expense, but prosperity then has been demonstrated to operate on borrowed time.
Cuccinelli asserts that there is not as much pollution now as 40 years ago, which is true. Unfortunately he uses this progress to justify relaxation of governmental regulations when the environmental threats are far from over. Continuing his assault on existing environmental rules, the Virginia attorney general maintains that the added compliance costs to business "hurt the poor first and worst" by forcing companies to lay off workers, and in extreme instances, go belly up, leaving communities bereft of employment.
In keeping with his distaste for big government, Cuccinelli derisively calls the Environmental Protection Agency the "Employment Prevention Agency". It is an unfair characterization that fixes blame erroneously. Well-managed companies have prospered under environmental regulations, while poorly managed firms have not. Even more to the point, it is the poor who virtually always benefit the most from environmental regulation because they are the segment of the population invariably most exposed to pollution. Sick people can't hold down jobs!
Cuccinelli's ideology leads him to a very parochial vision of the world. He declares that "the only places on earth that have ever strived for a clean environment all share two characteristics: free people and free markets."
Democracies in general do have a better environmental record than totalitarian states. But that doesn't mean despotic regimes are not mindful of environmental degradation and attempt to do something about it, China being a graphic case in point.
Ideology also infuses him with civic paranoia. The environmental movement, he asserts "is a shell for people whose agenda is to destroy and get rid of capitalism. It is like a watermelon, green on the outside, red on the inside."
Cuccinelli warms the cockles of Tea Party devotees' hearts by opposing federally mandated increases in automobile fuel economy as well as legalization of gay marriage. Consistent with his political zealotry, he has even flirted with those who question President Obama's birthright.
Cuccinelli is pro life, pro drilling, and pro gun, even to the extent of supporting the legality of one carrying a licensed concealed handgun into a club or restaurant, provided (small comfort) that the person does not imbibe.
So again, it must be asked, is Cuccinelli's ascent to prominence reflect the Republican Party's direction in the coming years? Or is he a harbinger of an ultra-conservative political movement that morphs into a breakaway Third Party?
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