Profiles In Extremism: The Virginia GOP's Tea Party Ticket
This year, after switching its nominating process from a primary election to a convention system, the Virginia Republican Party selected three candidates for statewide office who are far out of the mainstream. The state convention, attended by the party’s diehard members, was an opportunity for the Tea Party wing of the party and Religious Right activists to push the state GOP even further to the ideological fringe, even after the bruising the party took nationwide in the 2012 election.
Now, Virginia voters will have the chance to vote on a GOP ticket so far to the right that it would make Barry Goldwater cringe.
Undermining Abortion Rights
Gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli, the state attorney general and a former state senator, boasts that he entered politics by challenging a Republican lawmaker in a primary over the incumbent’s pro-choice views. After he was elected to the state senate, Cuccinelli tried to pass a personhood law which would criminalize all abortions in every case, along with several forms of contraception and fertility treatments. He has warned that God will punish America over abortion rights, which he compared to slavery, and has embarked on several endeavors as state senator and attorney general to close clinics that provide abortions and to defund Planned Parenthood.
E.W. Jackson, the minister and failed US Senate candidate who won the party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, earned plaudits from the far-right for arguing that Planned Parenthood is worse than the Ku Klux Klan . He fears that due to health care reform “abortion will increase like a plague upon the land” and claims anyone who backs a pro-choice candidate is “blaspheming their God.” An advocate of personhood laws, Jackson has slammed abortion and in vitro fertilization as “evils” that carry “the mark of Satan” and are akin to the gross crimes committed by Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
The GOP nominee for attorney general, state senator Mark Obenshain, like Cuccinelli backed multiple personhood bill in the General Assembly. He also supported successful legislation requiring invasive, transvaginal ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. In fact, Obenshain introduced legislation that would make it a crime for a woman to fail to report a miscarriage to the police, punishable by a hefty fine and even prison time. A former board member of James Madison University, he wanted to ban emergency contraceptive pills from the student health center.
A hero of the anti-gay Right, Ken Cuccinelli has attacked gay rights at every turn, most recently by taking on the 2003 Supreme Court ruling that struck down sodomy laws. Cuccinelli describes homosexuality as “intrinsically wrong,” “against nature and harmful to society” and as representing a “personal challenge,” arguing that gay people can’t have a family. Cuccinelli led the effort to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which he said would lead to polygamy, and denounced HIV/AIDS education.
“When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul,” Cuccinelli said.
He has worked to stop gay people from adopting children and extending health benefits to their partners, and even tried to stop college and universities from offering protections for LGBT employees.
Obenshain opposed a bill to protect LGBT employees from job discrimination three times in the state senate. Receiving a perfect rating from the state’s chief anti-gay group, Obenshain voted in favor of bills that would curb gay adoption rights and undermine anti-discrimination policies at public universities. The state senator also withdrew his support from a judge whose nomination drew GOP opposition because he is openly gay.
Jackson has built his entire career demonizing gays and lesbians, whom he has called “perverted,” “degenerate,” “spiritually darkened” and “frankly very sick people psychologically, mentally and emotionally.”
“Homosexuality is a horrible sin, it poisons culture, it destroys families, it destroys societies; it brings the judgment of God unlike very few things that we can think of,” Jackson said. “It also attempts to poison our children, divide them from their parents and the teaching of the church and basically turn them into pawns for that movement so that they can sexualize them at the earliest possible age.” He maintained that gays have “recruited” black men, warning that homosexuality is “killing black men by the thousands.”
Jackson has also linked homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality, and suggested that God will punish the military over the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, calling the discriminatory policy’s repeal “an abomination.”
Government shutdown architects Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jim DeMint, a former US senator from South Carolina who now leads the Heritage Foundation, are two of Ken Cuccinelli’s favorite politicians. He told a conservative gathering, “I’m glad Ted Cruz was here. That was a great win. You know, you get more Ted Cruzes in there to back up Jim DeMint and you have less to worry about. You want to elect people you don't have to lobby. Sort of launch and leave missiles, politically speaking. Ted Cruz is a good one, and he’s a smart missile.”
During the shutdown, Cuccinelli joined Cruz at a Religious Right group’s event, even while saying he opposed Cruz’s strategy. But Cuccinelli actually backed a similar strategy in Virginia, urging anti-tax Republicans to take their budget standoff “right to the brink, over the brink.”
E.W. Jackson also previously supported government shutdowns. At a 2011 Tea Party rally with House Republicans, he chanted “cut it or shut it” during that year’s budget standoff. During this year’s shutdown he addressed the Values Voter Summit, an event where speaker after speaker, including Cruz, praised the GOP’s shutdown strategy.
Restricting Voting Rights
Cuccinelli said that Virginia, the home of Massive Resistance, should no longer be subject to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He is also a huge supporter of voter ID laws that encumber voting among people of color, along with urban, young and elderly voters. While serving in the state senate, he fought against efforts to improve access to absentee ballots and restore voting rights to people who had served time for nonviolent felony convictions.
Obenshain will continue Cuccinelli’s legacy of undermining the rights of voters if he’s elected to replace him. The Washington Post editorial board writes of Obenshain: “In the legislature, he has been a champion of the GOP push for more restrictive voter ID laws, which would reduce access for poor and minority voters. (There is zero evidence of voters misrepresenting their identity at the Virginia polls, the ostensible justification for such laws.)”
Exhibiting just how his extreme ideology influences his policymaking, Cuccinelli used his office as attorney general to hound climate scientists who worked at the state’s universities. One scientist who was relentlessly attacked by Cuccinelli said that the GOP gubernatorial candidate wanted to “intimidate clime scientists” and “chill the scientific discourse” around climate change. Courts sided with the University of Virginia over Cuccinelli, and also rebuffed his legal challenge to the EPA’s regulations of greenhouse gases.
Obenshain readily defended Cuccinelli’s witch hunt against climate scientists, opposing a bill to prevent the attorney general’s office from pursuing cases against academic inquiries. He told one Tea Party activist that he “absolutely” would pursue another lawsuit against the EPA and investigation into climate scientists.
Jackson, for his part, denies the theory of evolution, arguing that the theory must be wrong because chimpanzees do not have a spoken language. He similarly rejects climate science as “silly” and “hysteria,” arguing that God would prevent climate change. “As if God’s gonna let mankind destroy the planet with SUV’s,” he told National Review’s Betsy Woodruff, who also notes that Jackson has preached that yoga and meditation could lead to demonic possession.
Anti-Obama Conspiracy Theories
Cuccinelli has flirted with the birther conspiracy theory (that President Obama was born in Kenya instead of Hawaii) and told a birther activist that it “doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility” that Obama was born in Kenya, even offering the activist legal advice. He also warned people against registering for a Social Security number “because it is being used to track you,” and endorsed the conspiracy theory that Obama won re-election through voter fraud.
“He certainly does have a lot of affection and favor for Islam,” Jackson said. “I’ve heard him talk about Islam in ways I’ve never heard him talk about America, and Christianity, I don’t even think about that with him, I really don’t, come on, that’s a joke.”
“We are dealing with an evil presence,” Jackson said of Obama.
He has also claimed that Obama is in “ rebellion…against God ” and supports “an agenda worthy of the Antichrist ,” tweeting that Obama would “like to be” the “Pres. of Sodom & Gomorrah.” Jackson also believes Obama “will force schools to start teaching all children homosexuality.”
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