The Effect of Cuccinelli on Communities of Color

Throughout his career as a public servant, Ken Cuccinelli has advocated for numerous policies that have adverse effects on communities of color.

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, center, gestures during a press conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, Tuesday, October 15, 2013. (AP/Steve Helber)
Republican gubernatorial candidate and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, center, gestures during a press conference at the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, Tuesday, October 15, 2013. (AP/Steve Helber)

With less than two weeks left until Virginia’s gubernatorial election, Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli will use any opportunity he can to help close the gap between himself and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. The stakes are high for Virginians, especially for Virginians of color who make up a growing share of the state’s population. As a long-time public servant in Virginia, Cuccinelli has been an advocate for numerous policies that have had adverse effects on communities of color in the state.

African Americans make up about 20 percent and Asian Americans make up close to 6 percent of Virginia’s population.[1] Latinos make up more than 8 percent of Virginia’s population and are a quickly growing part of the population. In fact, since 2000, people of color make up three out of every four new Virginia residents. As these communities grow, people of color will have more voting power in the state. Since 2000, Latino voter participation in the state has gone up between 1 percent and 3 percent in every election cycle; by 2016, Virginia will gain 128,000 newly eligible Latino voters compared to the 2012 election. And in that election, for the first time ever, African American voter turnout surpassed white voter turnout in Virginia, and Asian American voters turned out in huge numbers at more than 86 percent.

As communities of color become an increasingly important share of the state’s population, their votes matter more than ever—and they stand to lose a lot if Ken Cuccinelli becomes the governor of Virginia.

Tax reform

Cuccinelli’s tax reform plan would lower the tax rate for the wealthiest Virginians, even though Virginia’s most affluent residents pay less in state and local taxes than those living on a moderate or lower income. More than 25 percent of the benefits would be seen by the top 1 percent of earners in the state—an estimated $8,000 of annual tax cuts per household. Meanwhile, 71 percent of Virginia’s middle-class households can expect just $98 in annual cuts. Forty percent of Virginia’s middle- and low-income families will see no tax breaks, including the poorest 20 percent of Virginian families.

Even worse, there is a risk of taxes being raised on some moderate-income residents as a means to pay for the cut in corporate and local business taxes. This is particularly important to middle-class communities of color in Virginia. As of 2011, the annual personal earnings of Hispanics and African Americans in Virginia are $24,000 and $26,300, respectively—well below the annual personal earnings of non-Hispanic whites, at $36,000—and as such, Hispanics and African Americans do not stand to benefit much from Cuccinelli’s tax plan aimed at helping the wealthy.


Virginia already ranks 39th among the states in school funding, despite being the ninth-wealthiest state—and Virginia schools stand to lose the precious little funding they do have if Ken Cuccinelli is elected.[2]

Cuccinelli’s tax plan could cut $1.4 billion from the state’s general fund revenues, 30 percent of which serves as direct aid to elementary and secondary education. These cuts could result in an estimated $422 million decrease in school funding if the lost revenue is not made up through other tax revenue sources. If so, this would disproportionately impact many of the 136,000 Hispanic children and 533,230 African American children who make up around one-third of the children enrolled in Virginia schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

These children, many of whom are in poverty—including one-quarter of Hispanic children and close to 28 percent of African American children in Virginia under age 17—cannot afford cuts to public school funding as they continue to lag behind their white counterparts in many areas, such as reading and math proficiency. For the counties in Virginia with the largest Hispanic populations—including Prince William County, where more than one in five residents are Hispanic—more than $103 million in school funding will be lost, roughly one-quarter of the state’s total loss in school funding under Cuccinelli’s plan.[3]


Minimum wage

While Cuccinelli’s tax plan provides a person making $1 million with a tax break of $6,391, it provides no money for minimum-wage workers. Additionally, Cuccinelli exacerbates low-wage workers’ inability to increase their incomes by continuing to oppose increasing Virginia’s stagnant minimum wage, not only hurting Virginia’s workers, but also its economy. In 2007, Cuccinelli—then a state senator—was in direct opposition with three-fourths of his colleagues when he voted against raising Virginia’s minimum wage. Cuccinelli has also embraced an interpretation of the Constitution that gives substantially more power to states under the 10th Amendment. This could lead to the federal minimum wage being struck down, regardless of the benefits to Virginia’s working families.

Nationwide, there are more than 3.5 million workers who earn the minimum wage or less, 20 percent of whom are Hispanic and 15 percent of whom are African American. Almost 4 percent of the nation’s workers who earn the minimum wage or less live in Virginia, totaling 123,000 people. But raising the minimum wage in Virginia stands to benefit many more workers than that. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2015 would benefit 758,000 of the state’s employees, including many Hispanic residents, 15 percent of whom live in poverty.

English only

While he was a Virginia state senator, Cuccinelli sponsored a bill that would allow employers to fire employees who do not speak English in the workplace, making the employee ineligible for unemployment benefits. This bill unfairly targeted employees whose primary language is not English, such as new immigrants from non-English-speaking nations, multilingual first-generation Americans—including 1 in 10 Virginians who were born outside the United States—and 75 percent of Virginian Hispanics who speak a language other than English at home. In fact, this legislation would discriminate against the 40 percent of Spanish speakers and 41 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander language speakers in Virginia who report they speak English “less than very well.”

Crime prevention

Cuccinelli’s stance on crime prevention undermines the safety of all Virginians, especially communities of color who historically make up a large portion of the victims of gun violence. From 1999 to 2007, homicides in Virginia were twice as high for black people, at 1,760, as they were for whites, at 846. Cuccinelli has been a staunch opponent of gun control, sponsoring legislation that restricts access to information regarding concealed-carry permit holders and voting in favor of legislation that eliminates the ability of localities to require fingerprints as part of an application for a concealed-carry permit. Additionally, he has opposed expanded background checks, which allows many people who are ineligible to purchase firearms to do so through private sales at gun shows that do not require background checks.


Recently, Cuccinelli has moderated his stance on immigration reform, even calling immigration reform “very important for America.” Historically, however, Cuccinelli has not supported immigration reform and has encouraged policies that would profile people who are believed to be undocumented immigrants and punish their children.

In 2010, Cuccinelli attempted to push the state of Virginia to adopt similar policies to Arizona’s draconian S.B. 1070 law; he supported giving law enforcement officers the authority to inquire into the immigration status of people stopped or arrested. In 2008, then-State Sen. Cuccinelli sponsored a bill—Senate Joint Resolution No. 131—that urged Congress to amend the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to prevent the children of undocumented immigrants from qualifying as U.S. citizens despite their birth in the United States.

His stances on education and amnesty for undocumented immigrants combat some of the major points outlined in the DREAM Act. In 2007, he voted against a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship to pay in-state tuition at Virginia public universities. He was also one of the most vocal critics of former President George W. Bush’s support for immigration reform.

Health care

As recently as 2013, Cuccinelli made it clear that he is against Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. He was the first attorney general in the nation to file a lawsuit against President Barack Obama’s health care changes, and believes that Virginia could end up in a financially “perilous position” if the state opts to expand Medicaid. A sizable portion of Virginia’s citizens, however, is already in a perilous position when it comes to health care. More than half of the uninsured population are people of color; in Virginia, 31 percent of Hispanics, 16 percent of African Americans, and 16 percent of Asian Americans lack health insurance, compared to 10 percent of whites.

While Cuccinelli seems to think expanding Medicaid will be detrimental to the financial state of Virginia, the increased accessibility to health care, especially preventive care, could economically benefit many Virginians, especially the people of color who make up the majority of the state’s uninsured. Cuccinelli’s opposition to expanding Medicaid not only disproportionately affects 404,000 uninsured Virginians—many of whom are people of color—who would qualify for Medicaid,[4] but also circumvents the opportunity to boost the health of a sizeable portion of the state’s population and improve small businesses, many of which are owned by people of color. In fact, from 2002 to 2007, Asian American-owned businesses increased by 46 percent in Virginia, compared to the state’s overall business growth rate of 21 percent. These 44,576 Asian American-owned businesses employed 92,141 people and generated $13.2 billion in sales in 2007 alone. Businesses similar to these would save an estimated $20 million in reduced private insurance premiums if Virginia opts to expand Medicaid, which would allow small businesses to use that money to invest and grow, further contributing to the state’s economy.


Cuccinelli’s proposed tax cuts and opposition to a minimum-wage increase will intensify economic disparities in the state of Virginia. Under a Cuccinelli governorship, Virginia’s growing Hispanic population would have a difficult time gaining citizenship and workers’ rights, Asian American-owned businesses may be stifled, and his opposition to gun control could be devastating for African American communities who already experience disproportionately high rates of violence. Cuccinelli’s agenda has the potential to reverse some of the progress communities of color have made in income equality, safety, and offset the potential health care benefits from the Affordable Care Act.

Farah Ahmad is a Policy Analyst for Progress 2050 Action at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Mareshah Jackson is an intern for Progress 2050 Action. The authors would like to thank Jamal Hagler for his contributions to this column.


[1] Authors’ calculations based on U.S. Census Bureau, “2012 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates,” available at (last accessed October 2013).

[2] Wealth is based on per-capita income.

[3] Authors’ calculations based on percent Hispanic from U.S. Census Bureau, ”County Population Estimates by Demographic Characteristics – Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin; updated annually for states and counties,” available at (last accessed October 2013); Virginia Education Association, ”Cuccinelli Tax Proposal Further Reduces Essential School Funding” (2013), available at

[4] Qualifications for Medicaid are being a nonelderly adult, at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or meeting Medicaid immigration requirements.

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Farah Z. Ahmad

Senior Policy Analyst, Progress 2050