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Contrite 'Cooch' returns the money, sort of

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By Rick Howell

There are new developments in the improbable tale of right-wing extremist Ken Cuccinelli’s attempt to become governor of Virginia.
    As you remember, Cuccinelli had a part, too, in the saga that has enveloped Governor Bob McDonnell, once thought to be a squeaky clean “Christian conservative.”
    Cuccinelli likes that label, too, but both politicians accepted gifts and favors from the CEO of a company called “Star Scientific.” The leader of that firm realized he had two conservative politicians who love big business and corporations, and reasoned that they’d be willing to help for a favor or two.
    Before “Cooch” was ever nominated to run for governor, he accepted trips, a dinner, and a great overnight stay at a lake resort from CEO Jonnie Williams. Once McDonnell started getting heat for his gifts, which were considerably more, Cuccinelli’s rewards were also noted.
    Previously, he’d said that he had no way of returning those items, since he couldn’t “un-eat” a meal, “un-take” a trip, etc., etc. But last week, filled with contrition (if you believe him), Cuccinelli decided to donate his $18,000 worth of the largesse to charity.
    He was most humbled by the experience: “For those who’ve been disappointed in this situation or how I’ve handled it, I apologize,” he said in a videotaped message. “It’s been a humbling set of lessons for me.”
    The Washington Post editorial board wasn’t buying any of it.
    Here’s what it wrote: “Mr. Cuccinelli’s entanglements with Mr. Williams gave rise to conflicts of interest that went beyond his omissions on state disclosure forms. The lapses occurred as his office was opposing Star Scientific in a $2 million dispute over taxes owed to the state, and as it prosecuted the chef at the governor’s mansion, who first blew the whistle on Mr. Williams’s gifts to Mr. McDonnell.
    “Did Mr. Cuccinelli not understand the conflicts? Did he not understand that, as the attorney general, it was wrong to accept gifts from a businessman whose firm was fighting his office? Did he not understand that it was wrong to accept gifts from the businessman as his office prosecuted a whistleblower whose revelations threatened both the businessman and the governor, a political ally of Mr. Cuccinelli’s?
    “Mr. Cuccinelli, like Mr. McDonnell, is not answering relevant questions. Each insists he did nothing to help Mr. Williams or Star Scientific. Yet the common denominator in both cases is bad judgment, as well as a foot-dragging reluctance to do “the right thing, plain and simple,” until damage control and political self-preservation required it.”
    I couldn’t have said it better myself; which is why I shared that with you. Meanwhile, Cuccinelli’s weird running mate, E.W. Jackson, is driving his own party crazy. The Washington Post reported that Jackson’s campaign is refusing any help or advice from the state Republican Party.
    He won’t use state party databases for canvassing or phone calls. He insists upon working on his own list of voters he thinks supports him. He takes no advice from state party leaders.
    But if you’re on a mission from God, as Jackson imagines himself to be, why would you listen to mere human beings? Cuccinelli, for his part, should have known that nominating the crazed Chesapeake preacher would come back to haunt him.
    By comparison, the campaign of Democrat Terry McAuliffe seems like an island of sanity compared to the madness in the GOP effort.
    Virginia voters really must ask themselves: Are you ready for the “tea party,” religious right ticket produced by the most extreme political activists in Virginia, or would you rather have a more moderate, common sense alternative?
    That is the question we face in November.

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at RickDem117@gmail.com.