Our View: Resign?
Posted: March 14, 2013
Now that Bill Bolling, citing monetary and organizational hurdles, has wisely decided to forgo an independent gubernatorial run, Virginia politics can return to normal, which translates to “Let’s see how we can slam Ken Cuccinelli today.”
We must admit that Mr. Cuccinelli, pugnacious conservative avatar that he is, presents an inviting target for detractors — Democratic as well as nominally Republican. But the current attorney general and presumptive GOP gubernatorial candidate gives as good he gets on that score.
Still, one thing he should not feel compelled to answer for is his decision to serve his entire term as AG. He made a commitment (see “Today’s Quote) and plans to live up to it. Bully for him.
Of course, the Democrats, as is their wont, are doing their darnedest to make this an issue. But then, in such instances, they always do, regardless of when — or if — the customary decision to resign is made. For instance, in 2005, Jerry Kilgore was roundly excoriated for resigning that February. The hue-and-cry then was that Mr. Kilgore “broke a promise” and “bailed from the job.”
Nowadays, Mr. Cuccinelli is denounced for keeping a promise. “The taxpayers of Virginia,” sniffed Josh Schwerin, spokesman for the all-but-anointed Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe, “deserve to have an attorney general who is not campaigning for office while on the job.”
Playing political tit for partisan tat, the governor’s office fired back promptly. “Officeholders are perfectly capable of holding office and running for office concurrently,” said Tucker Martin, spokesman for Republican Bob McDonnell, who did resign as AG in 2009. “It happens every year, in numerous campaigns.”
Precisely, which brings us to the main point of this editorial — namely the Virginia “tradition” that dictates sitting attorneys general should resign if they decide to run for governor. It’s been noted in several news outlets that this “tradition” began in 1985, when Gerald Baliles resigned so he could devote time and energy to his gubernatorial quest.
In truth, the custom dates back considerably further. Democrats J. Lindsay Almond (1957), Albertis Harrison (1961), and Andrew Miller (1977) all left the AG’s office early to run for governor. In fact, Republican J. Marshall Coleman (1981) and, now, Mr. Cuccinelli have been the lone outliers in this regard.
Hence, the question: Why? Why does this “tradition” persist — and only for attorneys general? Tim Kaine, for example, did not feel obliged to resign as lieutenant governor — granted, his was largely a part-time job — when running for the state’s highest office in 2005. And sitting office-holders do not, as a rule, give up their jobs when campaigning for president — or for reelection as Virginia attorney general.
So what is it then? Does some aura of indispensability surround the Virginia AG’s office, rendering its chief incapable of multitasking or decision-making — but only when he or she runs for governor?
We understand how these resignations become entangled in the maw of politics. What we don’t understand is how and why this “tradition” got started in the first place.