RVA Politics is a blog about politics in the state of Virginia And the capital city of Richmond.

The author is a political scientist. Please don't hold that against him.


Court battle turns General Assembly into House of Cards

This week provided a dramatic turn of events in the ongoing court battle between Governor Terry McAuliffe and the Republicans in the General Assembly - almost literally dramatic, as events resembled a tv show about politics.

To recap: In July of last year, the Govenor appointed Jane Marum Roush to fill a vacancy on Virginia's top court. Roush wasn't a bad choice; she was a respected jurist who in most years would probably earn bipartisan support.

But the problem wasn't her credentials. Instead, Republicans were annoyed that McAuliffe ignored protocol in appointing her without consulting them. They put forth their own candidate, Rossie Alston, and declared they would prevent Roush's interim appointment from becoming permanent by whatever means possible.

Over the past year, McAuliffe dug in, reappointing Roush to another interim appointment, while the General Assembly threatened to replace her with Alston at the first opportunity. But this week, the GOP failed to get enough votes together to appoint Alston.

And that's where we enter the realm of television drama: A Senate panel nominated Ken Cuccinelli, the former Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate, to replace Roush. The Cooch was an inspired choice; he would be popular among conservatives and provide a consistently conservative voice on the most important court in the state.

But Cuccinelli is also considering a run for Governor. Ed Gillespie, who barely lost to popular Senator Mark Warner, is considered the front runner for the party's nomination in 2017; but he'll have to overcome conservative skeptics in a GOP that's currently in turmoil. The party will select its 2017 nominee in a convention, where a conservative candidate like Cuccinelli could easily challenge an establishment insider like Gillespie.

That's why this week's nomination of Cuccinelli was so dramatic, and might have seemed a little familiar to fans of House of Cards.  In Season 3 of the Netflix show (SPOILER ALERT, obviously), President Frank Underwood is worried about an independent challenge from his White House counselor, Heather Dunbar. So he offers to nominate her to the Supreme Court, thinking the lure of the position will get her to drop out of the race.

Of course, the Senate panel in Virginia is not as manipulative as Underwood. (I'm assuming they haven't murdered anyone on their way to breakfast like Frank sometimes does.) But the idea of a divisive nomination battle at next year's convention had to be on their minds; party leaders must have thought they could solve two problems with one solution by nominating Gillespie's biggest challenger.

Unfortunately for the VA GOP, they got the same result as Underwood did: Cuccinelli, like Dunbar, refused the nomination. The Senate has already moved on to another candidate for the Supreme Court, Stephen McCullough. And the drama in the Virginia GOP will likely continue through next year's convention.

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