TANGIER ISLAND, Va. — Ken Cuccinelli is holding a raw oyster. It is a small, round oyster with an unusually smooth shell and a distinctive black stripe. He stands on the deck of a crabbing boat that rocks gently on the Chesapeake Bay. The former Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee tilts his head back and eats his first sample from the oyster farm that he co-founded with a small group of friends.
After losing an election, some politicians become lobbyists. Others immediately begin running for another office. Cuccinelli helped start an oyster farm on Tangier Island, in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay. Praised on Fox News, scoffed at by “The Daily Show,” the outspoken conservative now seems focused on creating a new source of sustainable jobs for people on Tangier. And on how the oysters taste.
The first settlers arrived on Tangier from England in the 1600s. Their modern descendants speak an Americanized dialect of Restoration-era English. With only 83 acres of the island high enough for human habitation, cars are rare. The 727 residents (as of the most recent census) typically walk or drive golf carts and scooters. Cable TV and Internet access only arrived in 2010. While Cuccinelli lost the gubernatorial election to Terry McAuliffe in 2013, he won over Tangier Island’s devout Methodists, earning 90 percent of their vote.
The oyster-farming enterprise was the brainchild of Craig Suro, chairman of the Tangier Island Oyster Co. and once Virginia’s assistant secretary of health and human resources under then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). He was visiting Tangier several years ago with business partner Tim Hickey on a duck-hunting trip.
They hit on the idea of oyster farming as a new industry.
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