The situation between State Senator Thomas Norment, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, Governor Bob McDonnell and President Taylor Reveley, which seemed dead and gone long ago, reared its ugly head when Cuccinelli released an opinion from then-Attornery General McDonnell, which essentially stated that the $160,000 Norment was paid by the College to teach government and law courses was not allowed to include legal counsel. The extent to which Norment served as “counselor and attorney” to Reveley is what irks Cuccinelli.
Norment is Virginia Senate Minority Leader and a powerful member of the Finance Committee, which gives him a lot of discretion in deciding how much money the College gets. We’re fortunate to have someone from our area with such influence, and obviously, we would like to have him on our side as much as possible. Reveley correctly pointed out that $160,000 is, first, not a ridiculous salary to pay someone with unparalleled knowledge of Virginia law and politics and, second, is nothing compared to what a lawyer with Norment’s experience could make in the private sector.
Clearly, Norment isn’t entirely motivated just by money — no one goes into either politics or academics because they’re get places to get paid. But a six-figure salary is nothing to sneeze at, and Virginia’s pension system is also based on the three highest-salary consecutive years, where an extra $100,000 makes quite a difference. Norment can insist that McDonnell said there was not a conflict of interest in his role as legal adviser, and Reveley can claim the relationship is nothing but professional all he wants — none of this matters. Of course there’s a conflict of interest; you can’t avoid one when you’re paying someone who’s responsible for appropriating you money.
No one is naive enough to think that politics play no role in how things get done. As long as we turn to Richmond for funds, we’re going to have to play by an ever-changing set of rules. We don’t know what happens behind the scenes when three of the state’s five most powerful Republicans start to wheel and deal.
Not that what is going on isn’t a good thing for the College community — if it means more money coming down the pipeline, Reveley shouldn’t hesitate to use both hook and crook — but Norment’s previous relationship with the College seemed to cause more trouble than it was worth. The more Norment walked like a duck, swam like a duck and quacked like a duck, the harder it was to take claims seriously that he wasn’t a duck. But Norment is capable of advocating plenty for the College without making six figures, and his current reduced role reflects that.
It seems simpler to avoid hassles with the attorney general’s office and simply let Norment serve his main purpose, which is to represent his constituents. No matter his involvement with the College, one would hope Williamsburg’s senator is a strong advocate for the College. Thank goodness Norment is. Norment already does a lot to try and make sure the College stays adequately funded, and we should be confident he’ll continue to do so.
However, if Cuccinelli wants to make the case that the College shouldn’t have access to legal services that don’t come from his office, the College should fight back forcefully, making the case that public university status is insufficient for the Attorney General to have complete control over something so basic. The College has employed non-state attorneys for many years, and it isn’t about to hamstring itself by stopping now.
In this situation, it’s best if the College lets this go, trusts Senior Assistant attorney general Deborah Love to do her job, and generally tries to avoid problems with Cuccinelli. The College has more pressing issues to deal with, and it doesn’t need to waste its political capital on something so inconsequential. In return, however, Reveley should be able to expect more trust from Cuccinelli. They don’t have to be best friends, but the College has too much at stake not to have a working relationship.