Melendez-Diaz forces AG candidates into action
If you thought for one minute that the race for Attorney General was going to play second or perhaps third fiddle in statewide Virginia politics in 2009, think again. This race at one point appeared to be a minor league contest that was going to based on the long coattails of the highly publicized campaign for Governor. However in the early going it is clear that the personalities and the positions of both Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Steve Shannon will force voters to observe this contest on its own.
The most obvious example of how the AG’s race is an independent animal is the way in which the candidates drove the discussion related to fall out from the Melendez-Diaz Supreme Court decision. While the repercussions of the ruling, clearly are filled with public safety implications, the solutions to the problems are almost completely reliant on action by the Governor. Yet in this very important, nationally watched race for Governor, it was not Creigh Deeds or Bob McDonnell who were out front offering solutions to problem, it was the candidates for Attorney General.
Not only were the Attorney General candidates the only ones publicly discussing the issue, but but it was Cuccinelli who first suggested bringing the legislature together for a special session. The exact course of action that Governor Tim Kaine took this morning. (Our Andy Jenks reported on the issue today on NBC12)
Of course now that the debate over Melendez-Diaz has now gone from campaign rhetoric to actual government action, both Cuccinelli and Shannon are rushing to make sure voters know they were ones ahead of the game. This task is a bit more of a challenge for Steve Shannon. When Cuccinelli was calling for the Governor to call the legislature back immediately, Shannon was calling for a more measured approach. He even went as far as to call Cuccinelli’s push for a special session a “stunt”.
Today, Republican party leaders called Shannon’s reaction to the SCOTUS decision embarrassing. “Steve Shannon, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, initially called Ken Cuccinelli’s request for a special session a ‘stunt,’” said Pat Mullins, the RPV chair “Well, I guess the governor from his own party disagrees with him. I don’t think that’s the kind of thing you want to pull if you’re arguing to be the state’s top lawyer.”
But Shannon said that much of the work he did on Melendez-Diaz came behind the scenes and that the Governor and his team did exactly what he advised. They took a step back and determined what all their options were before hastily calling the legislature back. Shannon said that calling the Legislature back is only a small part of a comprehensive Melendez-Diaz fix and that much like he suggested it will still require plenty of “administrative” changes. “There are some things we can do legislatively to respond in the short term,” Shannon said. “(They will) pave the way for the administrative fixes that will keep these cases from being dismissed in court.”
This is an incredibly heady and intricate debate at a very early stage of the campaign. Don’t think for one minute that we won’t be seeing plenty more of this before November.