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The Ronald Reagan of Virginia

Ken Cuccinelli is this year's dream candidate.

By 5.29.13

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In this political off year, there are two important elections, in Virginia and New Jersey. The Governors races in those two states are the big prizes. You haven’t heard anything about these elections, because the Republicans are poised to win them both.

Chris Christie is widely expected to win re-election in New Jersey. That makes Virginia the real battleground.

The Virginia GOP held its state convention on May 18, less than two weeks ago. What came out of that in my opinion is the strongest party possible, an effective unification, or merger, between the Republican Party and the Tea Party.

That starts at the top of the ticket, with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli nominated for Governor. I can say this as someone who worked for Ronald Reagan in his White House Office of Policy Development. Ken Cuccinelli is no ordinary politician. Like Reagan, and like Thatcher, the whole reason he got into politics was to advance the conservative cause.

That means economic freedom and prosperity, for everybody, especially for working people and the middle class. For Cuccinelli, as well as for me, the motivation to pick up what is called today the conservative banner was the recognition that what maximizes prosperity for the average worker and his family, like my own family and the people I knew growing up, is traditional, American, capitalist freedom. That is what made the American people the richest and most prosperous in the history of the world, by far.

For 100 years, the so-called Progressives have been promising us they can improve upon it. But all they have done is prove the fundamental truth of what Winston Churchill said, “The great vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The great virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” The presidencies of both Reagan and Obama have once again proved the truth and wisdom of that, from opposite ends. (Except as my column showed a couple of weeks ago, Obama is not even delivering on equality either).

Or as Ayn Rand used to say, there are only two choices, capitalism or socialism. Choose.

But like Reagan, Cuccinelli’s conservatism is across the board. Cuccinelli has been a fighter as well his entire life for traditional American values, including family values, and what is called today social conservatism. As for Reagan, who in his heart was a libertarian (he said as much), that doesn’t mean imposing restrictions on people who make different choices in their personal lives. It means ensuring that people have the freedom to choose traditional families, and traditional lives, without restrictions from others on those choices. Cuccinelli emphasized in his convention acceptance speech, “An active and ongoing commitment to protecting the most vulnerable in our society, whether it’s protecting children from Internet predators or rescuing those who are victimized by despicable human traffickers.” These are real issues affecting real people in the real world.

Cuccinelli’s social conservatism means as well the religious freedom to allow Christianity to flourish, which must and does include the equal freedom to choose any other religion, or no religion.

And it means the freedom to choose life too. From the start of his political career, Cuccinelli has always been a leader on right to life. As he said in his convention speech, “It also means defending those at both ends of life -- protecting the elderly from abuse as well as the unborn. We should encourage a deep and abiding respect for all human life.”

And as befits a successful career attorney, Cuccinelli’s conservatism includes constitutional conservatism. As he added at the convention, “And being the home of George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry, Virginia should have a governor who respects our history; who is committed to incorporating the First Principles of this country into policy; and who will fight to defend the U.S. Constitution.” As on all of these issues, Cuccinelli has walked the walk as well as talked the talk. He was the first to file suit to challenge Obamacare, for example. This is Mark Levin’s dream candidate. The Tea Party’s too.

The Return of Reaganism
In his convention acceptance speech, Cuccinelli sounded the same themes as Reagan did. He emphasized as top priorities, “A stronger middle class, fueled by better paying jobs, more opportunity, and a more competitive economic environment that encourages our businesses to invest and grow,” and “A stronger economy that can produce new jobs for the thousands who are currently out of work,” and “The first step in fighting for the people of Virginia is to grow our economy, create new jobs, and protect the ones we already have.” 

 He added, “I’m going to fight for the coal-hauling trucker from Richlands, who is all-but invisible to people who have never been outside the Beltway but have been ordained to regulate the coal business.”

We hear similar themes from Obama (except Obama and the liberals are actually trying to shut down the coal industry). But in his case, I have rightly called that “Calculated Deception.” That is because he has never pursued the pro-growth policies needed to achieve that. Just the opposite. And he has achieved the opposite results. Middle class incomes and jobs have been plummeting throughout his Administration. As the Bible advises us, “By their fruits, ye shall know them.” But recognizing these themes in Obama’s rhetoric helps us to understand his political success, despite his neo-Marxism.

Cuccinelli indicated that, like Reagan, but unlike Obama, he knows how to make good on those promises. He said, “As Governor, I will streamline regulations. It’s imperative that we clear the way for those who expand our free market system so they can get about the business of doing business.”

He added, “To help Virginia become the best state for business, it’s critical that we continue to aggressively protect our right to work laws. As Attorney General, I have been a staunch defender of Virginia’s right to work laws, and I will continue to do so as Governor -- unlike my opponent.” Perhaps most important in this regard, there is Cuccinelli’s tax reform plan, discussed further below.

Cuccinelli also emphasized his proven constitutionalist record in fighting for the property rights of Virginians: “For eight long years I made it a mission to safeguard Virginians' private property rights, taking on entrenched special interests along the way. And wouldn’t you know it—when we let the people decide, the constitutional amendment passed with 74 percent of the vote, even with the Democrat Party of Virginia urging a ‘no’ vote on their sample ballot.” That was a state Constitutional amendment to protect property rights.

Cuccinelli also endorsed school choice in the speech, another Reagan theme, promoting “an education system that allows every child, regardless of where they live, the opportunity to receive a quality education, that gives parents greater control over their children’s education, and that rewards and recruits the best teachers.”

Cuccinelli also displayed the same true compassion as Reagan, saying, “I’m going to fight for the single mom from Roanoke who’s just learned her company has to push her below 30 hours a week to continue to keep her, but she doesn't know how she'll pay the bills.” Welcome to Obamacare, liberals, which is promoting employers to reduce workers to part-time jobs to avoid the employer mandate.

Cuccinelli further added, “Our commitment also includes fighting for the innocent who languish in prison because no one will hear their plea, and caring for Virginians who struggle with mental illness.” That is because real world experience has taught him, as it has me, that there are many innocent people serving time in prison for crimes they did not commit, often because they did not know how to defend themselves in the system, or were not articulate enough to do so, or they were railroaded with social bias and social judgments against them. He also recognizes that mental illness impairs people through no fault of their own, and they are consequently deserving of needed help.

Cuccinelli also endorsed “a transportation system that advances our economy and betters our quality of life.” Yes, Ken, build those roads, because that is one of the proper functions of government, just as Reagan increased spending on national defense. And it serves a booming economy.

Cuccinelli’s Pathbreaking Tax Reform Plan
Cuccinelli has already proposed, as the first initiative of his campaign, the most advanced, sweeping, state tax reform plan in the nation. He proposes to cut the state individual income tax rate by 13% during his term as Governor, from 5.75% to 5%, and to index personal exemptions and deductions for inflation, so that inflation would no longer effectively impose a tax increase on working people. He also proposes to cut the state corporate income tax rate by one third, from 6% to 4%.

What makes the plan truly revolutionary is that, besides closing special interest, crony capitalist loopholes, the pro-growth rate cuts in the plan are financed by a cap on the growth of state spending, rather than by adopting or increasing another tax. That cap would be equal to the rate of growth of population plus inflation, which has been 3.3% in Virginia over the past decade.

That means the plan is not intended to be revenue neutral, but a net cut in state taxes and spending from what they would be otherwise. But under the plan, it is important to emphasize, state spending would continue to grow every year, by 3.3% on average. That is a very reasonable, moderate, state spending limit, which can and should be kept in place indefinitely, to keep government from growing too big too fast, and imposing unnecessary tax and economic burdens on working people. Under that limit, state spending would continue to grow every year sufficiently to maintain the same level of spending in real dollars after inflation for every Virginian.

Indeed, by my own rough calculations, if the spending cap is kept in place, the entire state income tax, including personal and corporate, and capital gains, could be phased out entirely within 10 years. Cuccinelli’s tax reform plan could consequently be considered a first step in achieving that, though a full economic study would be necessary to confirm that time frame. Of course, nine states survive perfectly well without a general state income tax, including large states such as Texas and Florida, medium-size states such as Tennessee and Washington, and smaller states in population such as New Hampshire, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Alaska. There is no reason why the same can’t be done in Virginia. Indeed, Cuccinelli’s tax reform plan is a model for how the rest of the states could phase out their state income taxes as well.

The Political Stakes
What all this means most importantly is that Ken Cuccinelli is emerging as the Ronald Reagan of Virginia, with consistent, principled conservatism across the board, from free market economics to social issues. Of course, Reagan was an accomplished Hollywood actor, who could advance conservatism with polish and panache. But Cuccinelli has his own virtues, as an ex-Marine, and a highly articulate litigator who knows how to argue his case eloquently.

Moreover, the Convention also nominated the Rev. E.W. Jackson for Lieutenant Governor, a fiery black preacher. While the Washington Post and some genteel parts of Virginia will not appreciate his style and rhetoric, a large portion of the black grassroots will. If the ticket could just draw perhaps 15% to 20% of the black vote as a result, that would devastate the Democrats. Another Democrat vulnerability this year is the blue-collar vote in coal country southwest Virginia, where traditionally Democrat coal miners, and the local business community their patronage supports, recognize that the national Democrat party is committed to abolishing the coal industry.

Also nominated on the Cuccinelli ticket for Attorney General this year is State Senator Mark Obenshain, son of legendary conservative former Virginia Republican Party Chairman Richard Obenshain, who has well carried his father’s legacy. This further unifies the Republican Party and its conservative base with the Tea Party forces.

At the same time, the Democrat party nominee is former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, a Clinton pal and fundraiser, and recognized Washington insider, who is perceived as a carpetbagger in Virginia. Traditionally, Washington politicians have not done well trying to run in Virginia.

What this all adds up to is a potential landslide for Cuccinelli, with national implications. The background for this race is that Obama defeated Romney in the state last year. A rout by a thoroughly conservative ticket in Virginia this year would teach us that the Republican Party’s problem is the squishy moderates like Romney, who failed to bring out the party’s conservative base last year, and so led to Republican losses down ticket as well, particularly in the Senate. It would teach as well that liberal Left fantasies that the Republican Party is finished because of 2012 are just wet dreams.

And it would mean a new Reaganite conservative national leader for the Republicans, with valid national ticket aspirations. Suddenly, America’s future seems a lot sunnier.

Photo: Creative Commons, Gage Skidmore

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About the Author
Peter Ferrara is Director of Entitlement and Budget Policy at the Heartland Institute, General Counsel of the American Civil Rights Union, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and Senior Policy Advisor on Entitlements and Budget Policy at the National Tax Limitation Foundation. He served in the White House Office of Policy Development under President Reagan, and as Associate Deputy Attorney General of the United States under President George H.W. Bush.