Gizzi on Politics May 11, 2009

Virginia’s Conservative Candidate ‘Cooch’

“Why the heck isn’t Cuccinelli known as the movement conservative in the race for A.G. here?”  

That question came in an e-mail from a longtime subscriber and former Bush Administration official from Middleburg, Va. He was referring to State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli of Northern Virginia, one of three Republicans vying for nomination for state attorney general at the state party convention late this month. With about two weeks before the party conclave, my correspondent wondered why, given Cuccinelli’s reputation as a conservative swashbuckler in Richmond, his opponent, Arlington attorney Dave Foster, has been endorsed by such conservative notables as former U.S. Atty. Gen. Ed Meese and former U.S. Solicitor
General Ted Olson.  

And if that were not enough, the same subscriber pointed out, the other attorney general hopeful, former U.S. attorney John Brownlee, has been endorsed by two other nationally recognized conservative Republicans: Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions and former Oklahoma Gov. (1994-2002) Frank Keating.  

“I assume,” the Middleburg subscriber concluded, “that Cuccinelli knows he has a fight on his hands.”  

He does — and, much as he did in his first race for the state senate back in ’03, Cuccinelli exudes confidence. Recalling that contest during a recent visit to HUMAN EVENTS, the Centreville patent lawyer and father of eight reminded me how “my opponent for the nomination had endorsements of just about every national conservative leader. All of them I admired, in fact. But none could participate in the nominating convention because none of them lived in our district. I had been doing volunteer work for candidates, I knew the grass-roots people, and all but one of the precinct chairmen supported me. And I won.”  

A near-identical situation now exists in the Republican nomination battle statewide. In the petition drive to qualify delegates for the convention, Cuccinelli noted, “our supporters submitted more signatures than the candidates for governor [Bob McDonnell] and Lt. Gov. [Bill Bolling] combined.” He also cited his campaign’s high-powered push on the Internet for supporters.  

But among conventioneers, perhaps the most potent factor in Cuccinelli’s favor is his record in elected office. Much like fellow Republicans Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and Jim DeMint (S.C.) in the U.S. Senate, the man known to supporters as “Cooch” is the premier conservative spear-carrier in the Virginia Senate. From major pro-life legislation to trying to keep the lid on state spending to the most recent vote of the Republican-ruled General Assembly to decline some funds in the federal stimulus package, one can almost always find the Northern Virginian out front and leading the charge for the conservative position.  

Eschewing the role of high-profile law enforcement officials made famous by Democratic state attorneys general such as Andrew Cuomo of New York, Cuccinelli says: “I’m not running for attorney general to be a plaintiff’s lawyer and get involved in laws broken across state lines. And no decision of mine will be based on revenue it might generate.”  

Heidi Stirrup
, longtime Prince William County GOP activist and a former Reagan administration official, summed up the Republican race for attorney general race as “one between candidates who might well be conservatives and have ‘name’ support and someone who is known as a proven conservative by people who are the frequent convention-goers and do most of the volunteer work for the party. That’s why ‘Cooch’ will win handily.”

Frederick’s Finale

Two weeks after strongly hinting he would challenge his ouster as state Republican chairman before the Virginia GOP convention (see “Politics,” April 20), Jeff Frederick has just announced he will not try to recapture the party helm after all. In a statement to supporters, Frederick explained that further rancor over the chairmanship would only distract from the party’s goal in ’09 to recapture the governorship after eight years and hold onto the other two statewide constitutional offices, lieutenant governor and attorney general.  

A stalwartly conservative member of the Virginia House of Delegates, the 33-year-old Frederick had been under fire within the party for everything from his management style to the losses the GOP suffered in the Old Dominion last fall. Opponents insisted their opposition had nothing to do with Frederick’s ideology. The embattled former chairman told me that he was primarily opposed by people with what he called a “Richmond-knows-best way of doing things mentality” and “that those at the top didn’t like my saying that and went after me from the moment I became chairman [in ‘08].”

At a meeting of the Republican State Committee in Richmond last month, a vote of 54-to-18 removed Frederick from his perch. Party leaders later chose Louisa County chairman Pat Mullins as the new state chairman and, with Frederick’s latest decision, Mullins seems a cinch to hold the post for a while.

Remembering ‘Gentleman John’

“He had delusions of adequacy,” was State Sen. John Marchi’s withering comment on New York Mayor John Lindsay during his eventually successful challenge to the liberal incumbent in the Republican primary of 1969.  

The conservative Marchi’s celebrated jab at Lindsay was remembered not just for its cutting edge but because it was one of the few times any of the Staten Island legislator’s friends can recall his saying anything unkind about anyone — political opponents included. When he died on April 25 at age 87, that’s how the soft-spoken, thoughtful John Marchi was almost universally recalled: as a gentleman in the state senate where he served for 50 years (1956-2006) and in all of his relationships in and outside his work.  

“You’re in America and your name is John,” a nun told the young Giovanni Marchi while he was in parochial grammar school in Staten Island. So the son of immigrants from Tuscany, Italy, became John Marchi (pronounced “MAR-key”) and went on to graduate with honors from Manhattan College. After seeing action in Okinawa with the U.S. Navy during World War II, he came home to earn a law degree from St. John’s University as well a doctorate from Brooklyn Law School.  

Marchi practiced law and served as counsel to the New York State Senate. In 1956, he won a senate seat himself and soon became chairman of the Senate Committee on New York City. Along with his expertise in city matters, the Staten Island lawmaker was known for his conservatism on most issues. In 1964, Marchi became one of the first Republican legislators to also accept the ballot line of the young New York State Conservative Party.  

Five years later, after the first citywide income tax was enacted and crime had risen dramatically under Lindsay, Marchi took the mayor on in the Republican primary. In the last mayoral contest featuring storefront headquarters and soundtrucks, Marchi rallied conservative troops on a platform of supporting the police and cutting taxes. His campaign “was essentially a Conservative Party operation,” recalled Marchi’s Queens coordinator (and future State Sen.) Serph Maltese. In an upset that made headlines nationwide, Marchi carried four out of five boroughs and beat Lindsay by 4,000 votes.  

But conservatives were victims of their own success that year. Conservative Mario Procaccino topped four liberal opponents to win the Democratic nomination and, in the fall, he and Marchi split the anti-Lindsay vote. Running on the Liberal Party line, the mayor was re-elected with 42% of the vote. In 1970, both Marchi and Procaccino endorsed and campaigned for Conservative Party nominee James Buckley, who won the U.S. Senate seat in a three-way race.  

In later years, Marchi became a leading pro-life voice in Albany and launched a still-popular movement for secession of Staten Island from the city. Although he lost a second race as the Republican nominee for mayor in 1973, Marchi nonetheless played a key role in city history during the 1970s: As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he wrote the legislation that created the two oversight agencies that guided New York City from the brink of bankruptcy.

Marchi’s fervent opposition to the death penalty and support of environmentalist measures in Staten Island led some in the Conservative Party to call for denying him their ballot line. But party State Chairman Mike Long always made sure the Conservatives stayed with him because “John helped put us on the map with his race for mayor in 1969 and he was always there for us.”