Virginia’s presumptive Republican nominee for governor touted his accomplishments as attorney general Wednesday and predicted that a "wait and see" attitude is likely to shape statewide and nationwide legislative policies on key issues.
Ken Cuccinelli shared his perspective on politics in front of about 400 University of Virginia students in an introduction to American politics class led by political professor and expert Larry Sabato. Cuccinelli is likely to face Democratic challenger Terry McAuliffe in November. McAuliffe is expected to speak to the class this semester as well.
A UVa graduate, Cuccinelli was elected attorney general in 2009. During his tenure, he's aroused adoration and ire for using the law and the courts to defend and advance his doctrines.
“Public officials, particularly those at the highest level, are often stereotyped,” Sabato told the class. “We forget that they’re very complicated people with a wide range of views and opinions about lots of different things.”
After speaking about his tenure as attorney general for about 20 minutes, Cuccinelli responded at length to nearly a dozen questions from the students.
In response to a question regarding academic freedom and the university's future following last summer's leadership crisis, Cuccinelli said he believed that responsibility rests with the Board of Visitors.
"I think the main goal of the governor is to appoint good people to the Board of Visitors and to see them act like a board — to be engaged ... and to try and solve some of the long term things we're facing."
Cuccinelli also said his views on drug offenses have evolved somewhat in the past decade but cautioned that change at the state and federal levels will come slowly.
“I think a lot of states like Virginia will take a 'wait and see' approach, see how it works, see how it plays out, see whose worst nightmare is actually coming true,” Cuccinelli said referring to recent voter-led initiatives to decriminalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington state.
“I’m not ready to put in a bill to legalize it — sorry,” Cuccinelli said in response to another question. Laughter rippled across the lecture hall. “But at the same time, I’m not standing here saying not only will this not ever happen, that it should never happen. I think maybe it should in the future. I’m not ready to do it today, but I’m willing to look and to listen and to see how it plays out in the states where that’s going on right now.”
Responding to a question about privatizing the state owned liquor stores, Cuccinelli said he would have “no problem” seeing the state relinquish control of the monopoly. But he added the problem with making that a reality is the General Assembly has come to depend on and expect the millions in revenue that the state’s ABC stores generate.
Following his formal remarks, Cuccinelli spoke one-on-one with a handful of students. Citing a tight schedule, Cuccinelli’s aide declined to make him available to take additional questions from several reporters.
“I thought he was very open minded and very civil and we need a lot more influences like that,” said first year student Jenna Weida. “I was impressed."
A few however, like first year students Alexia Koch and Antonia Gaudig, were hoping to hear the attorney general elaborate on some harder issues.
“We were actually expecting more controversial issues to be raised,” said Gaudig. “I think both of us were surprised that the marijuana issue came back so many times.”
"It’s not like it’s an essential issue,” she said. “I wanted to ask about abortion or health care,” she said.
Both said they hadn’t heard Cuccinelli speak before but came prepared for a spirited debate.
“We looked him up and have quite a few things that we would be willing to argue about, so I think both of us were kind of disappointed that wasn’t raised more,” said Koch.
Sabato said it’s still too early to predict who might win the race for governor.
“This will be a roller coaster all the way to November, and of course everyone’s waiting to see whether [Republican Lt. Gov.] Bill Bolling jumps in — will it be a two way race or a three way race? We don’t know. You can’t handicap a race until you know who’s going to be in it."
What if Bolling were to jump in?
“The conventional wisdom is that Bolling would hurt Cuccinelli more but I question that. I’m not sure that’s the case,” Sabato continued. “Bolling has been taking very moderate positions and as a consequence, I could see him taking a lot of votes from both candidates.”