Yesterday, Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli injected himself into the controversy over the failure of several Republican candidates to access the presidential primary ballot. Cuccinelli planned to petition the state legislature to change the rules to allow anyone who qualifies for federal matching funds to get listed on the March 6th ballot. Today, it seems that Cuccinelli has had a change of heart, according to a statement released less than an hour ago and e-mailed to us from his office:
Statement from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on changing Virginia’s ballot access law for the March primary:
“I obviously feel very strongly that Virginia needs to change its ballot access requirements for our statewide elections. However, after working through different scenarios with Republican and Democratic leaders to attempt to make changes in time for the 2012 Presidential election, my concern grows that we cannot find a way to make such changes fair to the Romney and Paul campaigns that qualified even with Virginia’s burdensome system. A further critical factor that I must consider is that changing the rules midstream is inconsistent with respecting and preserving the rule of law – something I am particularly sensitive to as Virginia’s attorney general.
“My intentions have never focused on which candidates would be benefited or harmed, rather I have focused on what is best for Virginia’s citizens, as hundreds of thousands of Virginians who should have been able to make their choices among the full field of presidential primary contenders have had their number of choices reduced significantly.
“My primary responsibility is to the people of Virginia, and how best to fulfill that responsibility in these particular circumstances has been a very difficult question for me. I believe consistency on the part of public officials is an important attribute. And I believe that Virginians are best served by an attorney general who consistently supports the rule of law. That leads to my conclusion that while I will vigorously support efforts to reduce the hurdles to ballot access in Virginia for all candidates, I will not support efforts to apply such changes to the 2012 Presidential election.
“I do not change position on issues of public policy often or lightly. But when convinced that my position is wrong, I think it necessary to concede as much and adjust accordingly.”
I’m trying to verify this (I got copies on two of my professional accounts and the header has the right return address), but assuming this is legitimate, it makes a lot of sense. There has been a bipartisan consensus in Virginia that the ballot access rules have grown too tight, and the legislature will definitely want to revisit the regulations. However, two of the campaigns managed to make it through the qualification process without too much trouble, and they spent a lot of money and resources on doing so. Changing the regulations now to benefit campaigns that didn’t would create a whole new set of legal headaches for Virginia, and would create a new issue of fairness.
Of course, all this was true yesterday, too. Why did Cuccinelli jump the gun without considering the implications of a mid-race rules change? It sounds like Cuccinelli may have misinterpreted the bipartisan desire to review and adjust these regulations for a demand to get Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Jon Huntsman onto the March 6th ballot by any means necessary. Those candidates who may have felt vindicated by Cuccinelli’s statement yesterday are now back to square one.
Update: I’ve exchanged e-mails with Cuccinelli’s media contact, and this is legitimate. Just to be clear, I think this is the right decision, and it’s more important to get this right, as it always is when enforcing the law.