Ken Cuccinelli — shaped by his faith
Virginia’s attorney general is a man ‘on fire for the law.’
Ken Cuccinelli remembers growing up in a devoutly Catholic family.
“We were at church all the time,” he said. “It was the centerpiece of our lives. It was a constant.”
The Cuccinelli family moved to McLean from Edison, N.J., when the future Virginia state senator and attorney general was 2 years old.
His early education was in Fairfax County public schools, but when it was time to pick a high school his parents wanted a different track. They wanted him to experience “real life” because they believed the schools in McLean were not typical of reality.
The real world
“They wanted me to have more of a real world experience,” he said.
Gonzaga College High School, on I Street Northwest in Washington, D.C., promised to deliver that experience. The young Cuccinelli enrolled in the Jesuit school in a part of town far from the tree-lined streets of McLean.
He said the school shared a neighborhood with homeless people who set up makeshift dwellings near the campus. The young man served food at a homeless shelter.
“It was a different experience,” he said. “It made me sensitive of what was going on around me.” He also was drawn to the tough curriculum offered by the Jesuits — a toughness that he would carry into his professional life.
His future wife, Teiro, was “the girl next door.” Actually she was the girl three doors away. The couple dated in high school and were married on the Gonzaga campus.
“That shows how important the school was to me,” he said. He laughed as he recalled that the ceiling plaster in the chapel began to crumble and fall during the wedding ceremony.
Cuccinelli went on to earn an engineering degree at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville followed by a law degree from George Mason University School of Law and Economics in Arlington.
“I got on fire for the law,” he said of his change in career path.
He and his wife have been married for more than 18 years and have seven children — five daughters and two sons. They belong to Holy Trinity Parish in Gainesville.
Raising seven children is challenging for a man who is the chief lawyer for the commonwealth of Virginia.
“When you take this job, you have to accept certain responsibilities,” he said. “I work for the eight million citizens of Virginia.”
Cuccinelli believes that the state has great deputy attorneys general so he feels comfortable delegating when important family responsibilities come up.
“I went to every swim meet this summer,” he said.
The attorney general has taken some heat for some of his opinions.
As a state senator, Cuccinelli sponsored a number of pro-life pieces of legislation. His opposition to abortion has continued as attorney general. He was asked by a state senator from Roanoke for an opinion on the state’s ability to regulate abortion clinics.
In the opinion delivered last summer, he wrote that abortion clinics should be bound by the same regulations as outpatient surgical offices.
“(Right now) there is no regulation of abortion clinics,” said Cuccinelli. “It’s a complaint system. Until then, no action is taken.”
His opinion is that it’s part of a health and safety regulations authority the state already has.
The attorney general opposed the expansion of Virginia’s death penalty, which would have allowed the execution of accomplices. He believes the death penalty is a useful deterrent and he thinks that Virginia has “a very good system” for the death penalty process.
Another contentious area is immigration reform. Last summer he joined other states in filing an amicus, or friend-of-the-court brief, opposing the federal challenge to Arizona’s tough immigration law. He is opposed to illegal immigration.
“I want legal immigration” he said. “We need to do a much better job of processing those who play by the rules.”
He contends that the country has a right to defend its borders, and he wants the laws enforced.
“I believe in the rule of law,” said Cuccinelli. “If you haven’t come here legally, you have to leave.”
Cuccinelli is a supporter of school choice for parents. He believes that parents should be responsible for the education their children. There is no financial help now for parents who want to send their children to private elementary and secondary schools.
The commonwealth of Virginia has a higher education program called a Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) that provides financial assistance for Virginia residents to attend private colleges and universities in Virginia. Cuccinelli would like to see something like TAG developed for private elementary and secondary education.
How does the job of attorney general differ from a state senator?
“(The AG’s job) is my bully pulpit,” he said.