This is a guest blog post by Nena Huss, a student at Christopher Newport University and a campus representative for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
As a guest blogger I suppose I should introduce myself: my name is Nena Huss, age twenty, and a campus representative for NARAL Pro-Choice America at Christopher Newport University. On our campus this year we have hosted each of the gubernatorial candidates for Virginia, an impending election causing quite a stir within our state. I was unable to attend when McAuliffe, the democratic candidate, or Robert Sarvis, the libertarian candidate, came to speak but when Ken Cuccinelli came to speak I made sure I could go. However, one of the interesting aspects of his speech is how little notice students were given. I received the email informing me of Cuccinelli’s speech about six hours before he arrived. I went back through my emails to see if it had been announced before but no luck, they said he was going to come but all my other emails that mentioned it stated that the date had yet to be set. I began to look online to see if any other articles or sources mentioned the date and time and I found only one, a small Hampton Roads site that mentioned the correct date and time at the end of an article; other forums and the school newspaper did the same but had an incorrect date. It is entirely possible that they simply just did not know, but CNU’s past history with controversial speakers makes me wonder. Last year Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan spoke at CNU and the school faced an issue of students protesting his appearance. Students were told that they could not protest because they did not give notice ten business days before the event despite the fact that it was only announced a day or two before. CNU faced a great deal of backlash for this so, in my opinion, they gave even less notice for Cuccinelli so as not to face potential protestors.
The forum was held in the Gaines Theatre on campus in the torrential rain and given the late notice, there were not as many people as I expected. After politely accepting a flier about a candidate I was not even eligible to vote for, I took my seat. Cuccinelli took the stage and introduced himself and gave some background information. This was not my first time seeing him speak; he gave a speech at Virginia Girl’s State, a summer leadership and citizenship program sponsored by the American Legion and the American Legion Auxiliary, when I attended and faced a surprisingly hostile audience of seventeen year old girls.
While listening to him in Gaines Theatre I realized he, or someone on his team, must have done their research. He made a point to mention his history with survivors of sexual assault, his work with mental illness, and a couple other issues that CNU has strong groups specifically for. After his introduction, the two moderators began to ask questions of the candidate. The theme of the night for Cuccinelli appeared to be “let’s be moderate,”as he did not touch on any controversial issues. Instead he brought up his past legislation on issues that no one in the area would disagree with. He talked about the transportation bill, something important on the Peninsula. He was asked about college affordability and talked about the possibilities of digital learning. All very civil, all very typical.
It wasn’t until reproductive rights were brought up that his attitude changed. The female moderator began a question about reproductive rights and he cut her off before she finished her question saying, “You mean abortion.” She agreed to that and then I saw him basically dodge the question entirely. Instead of addressing his opinions on the issue, he maneuvered back to talking about “hot lanes” and how when he runs on an issue, he gets it. I was confused at that point: what did that have to do with reproductive rights? The moderator must have shared my confusion because she asked him again, this time specifically about what he would try and pass in regards to that issue were he elected. To this he seemed to say that he would do nothing and that he’s never supported legislation in regards to that. His wording was careful enough that I figured he was trying not to talk about his opinions on the matter and instead trying to be moderate. When the moderator brought up his support of the “Personhood bill” and the use of a transvaginal ultrasound for women seeking an abortion, he more or less brushed it off. He gave the vaguest possible answer so as not to seem extreme. All in all the speech was a normal political speech, meant not to offend anyone but Cuccinelli’s careful avoidance of reproductive rights gave me no reason to feel any safer with the idea of him as governor.