By Jonathan Wilson
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli plunged into controversy in recent weeks with a couple of major legal opinions, one saying it’s okay for police to question people about their immigration status and another saying the state can more closely regulate abortion clinics.
If you look closely at those opinions, you’ll find a common thread: a guy named Bob Marshall.
In both cases it was a formal request from this Republican member of the House of Delegates from Prince William County that led Cuccinelli to issue his opinions.
The carefully designed political strategy is classic Bob Marshall.
Bob Marshall’s been around for a long time. It’s his 18th year in the House of Delegates. He’s always been socially and fiscally conservative, and he admits he’s always been an outsider.
"I'm not part of the establishment and nobody would mistake me for an establishment Republican," says Marshall. "You'd have to be, really on a different planet for a couple centuries to reach that conclusion."
Bob Gibson, the executive Director of the Sorenson Institute for Political Leadership in Charlottesville, says that’s true. He says Marshall's penchant for tossing out last minute amendments to legislation can be maddening to colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.
"He will draft them on the spur of the moment, when a bill is being debated on the floor of the house, and he'll throw them in, and this will change the debate," says Gibson.
He can do that, Gibson says, because of his peerless grasp of parliamentary procedure, knowledge Marshall says he absorbed as a congressional aide to California Republican Bob Dornan in the 1970s.
"He asked me to go and read the parliamentary manuals of the House of Representatives, and it's about seven or eight feet thick, so I just started at one end, and plowed through to the other," says Marshall. "I used to give him policy grenades to toss onto the floor of the House to use against Tip O'Neill and we succeeded very well."
And it’s working in the House of Delegates, too.
On many issues, Marshall's social and fiscal stance has become state law.
This year's Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act, which paved the way for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's lawsuit against the Obama administration's health care legislation, was Marshall's brainchild.
Gibson says Marshall and Cuccinelli, who represented neighboring districts when Cuccinelli was a state senator, clearly enjoy working together.
"Oh I think there's a definite connection, I think they have been on the social right in their party for years and have been on the outside and now are finding themselves a little bit more on the inside, and are using it masterfully in terms of getting publicity," observes Gibson.
Marshall also laid the blueprint for Virginia's Commission on Immigration, created three years ago to examine how federal immigration policies come up short.
And Virginia's "one man, one woman" constitutional amendment on marriage, which passed a year before that? Marshall, a devout Catholic, co-wrote that legislation as well.
"My motives come from my faith, but I have to translate it into a secular world. If the motives come from faith, but the policy benefits the common good, I think that's a fine combination," he says.
Kris Amundson, a former Democratic state delegate from Fairfax County, says she and Marshall would feistily debate over some social issues such as abortion, but occasionally surprise colleagues by collaborating.
She says Marshall is a tireless ally, and a tough opponent, but one with little artifice.
"There's no sleight of hand with Bob, you know precisely what he's for. I don't think the majority of Virginians are for many of the things Bob Marshall supports, but they're going to have to demonstrate that," says Amundson.
But Marshall is now operating with a Republican governor, a Republican House of Delegates, and a kindred spirit in the attorney general’s office.
Unless his command of parliamentary and legal procedure starts to slip, his opponents have a very rough road ahead.