Cuccinelli: 'You Can't Win if You Don't Fight'

Ken Cuccinelli is the Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia and a proud conservative. He was one of the first Tea Party candidates in 2009, and built a national profile for his successful election that year. Since then, he has led the charge by challenging the Obama administration’s expansions of federal power, winning victories for Virginia and the nation. He is now running for Governor and will likely face Democrat Terry McAuliffe, Clinton apparatchik and former Democratic National Committee chair.

Mr. Cuccinelli is a Roman Catholic, married for over 20 years with seven children. He attended the prestigious Jesuit prep school, Gonzaga, in Washington, D.C., and is a graduate of the University of Virginia with a law and masters degree from George Mason University. Mr. Cuccinelli was in private practice before becoming Attorney General.

Prior to becoming Attorney General, Mr Cuccinelli served in the Virgina Senate from 2002 to 2010, representing a district in Northern Virginia. His focus  on government accountability and transparency led him to fight for a law that put the details of the commonwealth's budget online for all citizens to review. Mr. Cuccinneli's reputation of holding both political parties to the principles of limited government and the Constitution made him an early Tea Party favorite.

McAuliffe’s camp attempted to attack Cuccinelli Tuesday by staging a reading of selected passages from his new book, The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty, hoping to embarrass him by drawing attention to his unabashed conservatism. When Cuccinelli spoke to Breitbart News, he was thumbing through McAuliffe’s own book, a political memoir entitled What A Party!: My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators and Other Wild Animals. "I hope every voter in Virginia reads both books,” Cuccinelli quipped.

Breitbart News: What reaction will your book provoke after yesterday’s stunt?

Cuccinelli: They're going for a partisan reaction. They were always going to have the first hit against me on my prediction that the Democrats use Social Security and Medicare to scare people. Well, how about the granny-over-the-cliff ads they ran against Paul Ryan? Was I so far off? And they’re trying to compare things I said to Romney's “47 percent” remark. They say [I’m] against rec centers and pools because I raised the argument in the last chapter that when local and state government build these facilities, they crowd out the ability of private enterprise to invest and grow. That's just Economics 101. It's thin gruel coming from their side. In the book, we don't pull any punches, nor do we back off the notion that it's critical to have states to check the federal government.

It comes back to founding principles. While the Founding Fathers may not have had any thoughts on the Internet, they certainly had thoughts on tyranny. And they created means to inhibit the powers of the federal government to inhibit tyranny. The real problem today is that there are so many expansions of that power, all at once, in so many agencies. I was listening to the president’s State of the Union address, and how he said [paraphrasing], “I can do it with administrative agencies, but Congress has to get into the game.” The continual reliance on agencies is historically bothersome, it’s divisive, and it’s just bad policy.

There are several Republican governors that have decided to accept Obamacare spending for Medicaid programs. Will you be able to hold the line?

Cuccinelli: You never win if you don't fight. Yes, we lost the case against Obamacare, and the law's still standing. We lost on one constitutional argument. But we won on three. And one of the three we won on was that it produced the first limits ever expressed by a federal court on the federal spending power. By a 7-2 vote! We were all shocked by that. That allowed us, in Virginia, to meaningfully contemplate not doing the Medicaid expansion. We spent $8 billion per year on Medicaid before the Supreme Court decision--splitting it $4 billion-$4 billion with the state government. Before the ruling, if we didn’t go along with Obamacare, we lost all $4 billion of the federal spending. Now we can make the decision on a straight-up basis. They're still bribing the heck out of us. They’re offering 100% of the cost of new Medicaid enrollees, and then 90% of the cost after three years--9 of 10 dollars for health care for this population. But I don't believe the cost estimates. No administration, Republican or Democrat, ever gets that right. So what do we do, after the first three years--do we raise taxes? Pull the money from transportation? We didn't even ask those questions before the health care case. We lost, but we won the ability to have that debate [over Medicaid spending]. 

Yes, some governors like [Arizona’s Jan] Brewer and [Ohio’s John] Kasich are adopting some of these options. But we all are not going to do it. [Virginia Gov. Bob] McDonnell is not going to do it. My opponent--he's all in. Free money! That's their attitude on the other side--of course, that’s gotten us into the financial mess we're in. 

Whether or not we have some defections, before the case, we had a 50-0 sweep. Now it's gonna be somewhere down the middle. And a few years down the road when the federal government scales back, will they let states out? It’s a roach motel--once you are in, you are not able to get out without their permission. This admin will never give permission. This is a very permanent decision. 

We've earned the ability to do some things like that. Or take the EPA fight we won last month [over regulating water resources in Virginia]. I saved taxpayers of Fairfax County $250 million. The Virginia Department of Transportation saved $75 million. I called Christ Koster, the Democrat Attorney General of Missouri. He hadn’t heard the news about the case. I said, you don't know that the other three cases of this in the country are all in Missouri? He said, you're kidding. We win a federalism fight like that, and it's gonna be extremely powerful for other attorneys general, Republican or Democrat.

Breitbart News: Virginia races are often important in terms of national politics. How does your race reflect that?

Cuccinelli: It's certainly got McAuliffe, who is a national figure. In Virginia, I saw what the president did on the ground in 2012. And it was impressive--and say that even though I pride myself on being a good grassroots campaigner, because of the grass roots conservatives getting engaged on the principles I advance. We have a lot to reflect on here [in Virginia], and that motivates our activists a great deal. And I bring those people out. And I'm the best grass roots campaigner in Virginia, and we are going to build the best Republican operation that's ever been run in Virginia, including the Romney campaign. That is part and parcel of an election--the in-state version of the national contest you're talking about. We've gotta take that same spirit that exists in Virginia and we've got to really harness it to contact as many voters as we can--not just to get voters, but to convince people we are right. They will vote on my conservative tax proposal, on my conservative transportation proposal. We're gonna put it on the table for people.

Breitbart News: Recently the Huffington Post said that you were “evolving” on the legalization of marijuana. What is your position?

Cuccinelli: That came out of something I said to Larry Sabato's class [at the University of Virginia].I joked that I had him as a professor before he had tenure, when he had to work hard. I was asked first about the Washington and Colorado referenda on decriminalizing marijuana. And i think the room was surprised with my response. I said, if they want to experiment and try it out in their states. God bless them and let them do it. I'm not ready for them to do that in Virginia, but i'm perfectly willing to say no with the possibly of revisiting later. I do find it interesting that a lot of the criticism I've got on states’ rights issues has been that my stance represents “nullification.” That's when you ignore the law. Those referenda are out-and-out nullification by voters, not some politician. The voters who went to the polls knew full well they were voting for something that is illegal under federal law, and they said we're gonna legalize it anyway. So of all issues--here we have people from the left, and that's the issue on which we get a full-blown nullification effort. And i find that amusing. Let's see how it works. let's see what the federal government does. There's only one way to find out.

Breitbart News: Would you apply the same principle to gay marriage and abortion?

Cuccinelli: My starting point is that government must protect life. It’s a starting point for a reason. A human being is a human being. Let's follow that one out a little bit. Let's just say states could decide, before you're born, whether you count as a human being or not. The least you could argue is that how do you decide when life beings--when 46 chromosomes come together, or when you're born? Some states might pick one and some might pick the other. We could say this wasn't nailed down at the founding, but we have since come to know that life begins at conception, that life is fundamental. 

On marriage, I think that Rick Santorum argued better than anyone ever has about why protecting marriage is worthy of a federal amendment. The reason is that families are more foundational than government itself. I tend to agree with him. But i do think that in this area [marriage], it's more tolerable for society to let states go in different directions. I suspect that's what the Supreme Court is going to let us all do. And i just don't foresee two-thirds of both the U.S. House and Senate ever voting for any of these things, in any direction, and then getting three-fourths of the states to agree. I will say those are not issues we talk about in our book because those are not things the feds are fighting us about. 

Breitbart News: You were one of the first Tea Party candidates. Where do you see the Tea Party going today?

Cuccinelli: The Tea Party is principle-focused, not majority-focused like the Democrats or Republicans. Republicans and Democrats exist to get a majority. I don't. I'm in politics to advance the Founders' mission in the 21st century. And sometimes that has me working with Democrats, and sometimes with republicans. I’m glad that there is some overlap between the Tea Party and the Republicans, but they aren't always in agreement. And the Tea Party continues to feel that they are outside that process, and they bring their own form of accountability in nominations and elections. It doesn't mean they can swing every election, but they are a force to be reckoned with--even if, to date, they are not all that organized in how they deal with elections. 

Breitbart News: Virginia is a “purple state.” What can we learn from your example about how conservatives can win in similar circumstances?

Cuccinelli: When I was in the state senate, I won three elections from Fairfax Country--the heart of Northern Virginia, the more liberal part of the state. It’s growing so fast--a growth started by Republicans and continued by Obama. I am about some very basic things: listening to voters, and offering solutions based on conservative principles. For example, I favor a user fee toll road system for new highways as a transportation policy--that’s a pretty conservative approach. And with the new toll lanes that opened on the beltway, you'll be able to go from Fredersickburg to Dulles International Airport at full highway speed at rush hour. I explain why it makes Virginia better to go this way instead of another way. 

Breitbart News: How will the defense sequester affect Virginia, a defense-heavy state?

Cuccinelli: The sequester is a reality that's coming. Virginia's gonna take some very serious hits when the federal government finally does what it has to do, and that is shrink relative to our economy. That has to happen. And we are going to take those hits and those financial retrenchments harder than anywhere else. 38% of the state’s GDP comes from federal government spending. We are going to make the case that it’s foolish to leave Virginia--that's how we have to be. There'a a lot of human capital and intelligence there that we want to tap and keep in the state.

Breitbart News: Finally, why are you running for Governor of Virginia?

Cuccinelli: When I ran for Attorney General in 2009, I did not expect to be doing this. Now I’m making the move from adviser to client. Lawyers advise and clients decide. There are things the really need to be done differently. One of the things I’ve done, for example, as CEO of the state’s deptartment of law--that’s how I decsribe my job--is to introduce a corporate culture that is entrepreneurial. We had budget cuts and we're still making our department better. There are other departments that are unhealthy, that are  poor stewards of the taxpayers' dollar. I have seen how some of them operate. I can bring both the management experience and the political will to start to move some of these agencies that have never historically moved in one term before, and to make Virginia a better place to live. 

Breitbart News: But you would be succeeding a Republican governor--is it hard to run on a “change” agenda?

Cuccinelli: I’m not running on a “change” agenda but a “juicing it up” agenda. Gov. McDonnell’s priority in 2009 was the economy. I'm running on a different and specific platform. I believe, for example, that tax reform is the best way to deliver economic opportunity. It’s the best way to create jobs. Let the private sector grow and get out of the way and take care of the basics. I don't see that agenda as being in tension with what Gov. McDonnell has done. Transportation, for example, is an issue this session. He didn't run on a transportation proposal. I'm gonna run on transportation. 

Breitbart News: While the president wants to do something about climate change, can you do anything to improve the climate in Virginia?

Cuccinelli: I want to fix the political climate, and hopefully keep the economic climate as clear as possible. However, the clouds on that horizon are the federal impositions. We will do everything in our power within the law to resist, keeping in mind that elections do have consequences.


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