EDITOR’S NOTE: Virginians have a few days left to vote for the commonwealth’s statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Seven candidates for those seats — gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe, Glenn Youngkin and Princess Blanding; lieutenant governor candidates Haya Ayala and Winsome Sears, and attorney general candidates Mark Herring and Jason Miyares — sat for conversations with WTOP’s Nick Iannelli.
As is generally the case, there has been no shortage of attacks in the Virginia campaign, and no shortage of places to find out about them. Some of that is fair game and important to know; some of it, not so much. Some of it isn’t true. What we’ve done here is keep phrases such as “my opponent wants …” and “my opponent says …” to an absolute minimum. You’re getting the candidates’ views on themselves, what they would do in office and why they want to do it.
— Rick Massimo, Senior Copy Editor
Attorney General Mark Herring told WTOP he’s running for a third term in order to “continue building on the incredible progress we’ve been making in Virginia over the last eight years.”
On his website, Herring, a Democrat, highlights the necessity of combining safety with law enforcement reforms “to address disparities and inequities throughout the criminal justice system,” including cash bail reform and an emphasis on de-escalation by police, as well as the elimination of Virginia’s backlog of rape kits.
“During my term as attorney general, we have made progress on issues that Virginians really care about,” Herring said. “Virginians need someone that they can trust to keep this progress going, and not roll us back to a time that we’ve been proud to move forward from.”
He pointed to his work on COVID-19 restrictions as one achievement: “Over the course of this pandemic, there were dozens and dozens of lawsuits, brought to challenge those COVID safety measures in court. And I successfully defended all of those legal challenges.”
Many observers, including Herring’s Republican opponent, Jason Miyares, have pointed out that Virginia’s murder rate has gone up in recent years — 51% since 2014, from 4.05 per 100,000 to 6.15, according to statistics from the Virginia State Police.
Herring replied that the same report found ”overall, crime is down.” As for violent crimes, including homicides, he pointed to guns.
“The pandemic has created stressors that have made plenty of issues worse,” Herring said, “but we have to acknowledge that the incredibly easy access to guns in Virginia is an undeniable issue.”
The attorney general said he had recently finished a two-week tour meeting with law enforcement officials across the commonwealth.
”And every single one said: It’s the guns,” Herring said. “Kids and dangerous people are able to get their hands on a gun way, way too easily. And we need to protect our gun safety laws that we were able to get passed recently in Virginia.”
If new gun safety laws are in place, why has the homicide rate gone up?
“It means that we need to continue building on the progress that we’ve started,” Herring said. “I’ve got a proven record of standing up to the gun lobby. And as attorney general, I’ve made it my mission to keep Virginians safe, by combating gun violence and taking a strong stance on common sense gun safety measures.”
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Herring said he was in favor of continued “significant reform” to policing, saying he supported the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
“We often ask (officers) to do too much, really,” he said. “We ask them to be counselors and social workers and addiction specialists while at the same time doing all of the other things that we ask them to do. And we will always support and defend the ones who are doing their jobs the right way. But we will not protect the bad actors in law enforcement who abuse the badge and make our law enforcement look bad.”
That said, he stopped short of coming out against qualified immunity, which shields officers from lawsuits for civil rights violations on the job.
The troubles surrounding Virginia’s Parole Board comprise one of Miyares’ chief campaign issues against Herring, as he says the attorney general should be held responsible for the alleged violations of policy and law regarding the early release of prisoners, including violent felons.
Herring replied, “I have no say in who gets paroled and (Miyares) knows it well,” saying the assertion that he does have that power has been ruled false by Politifact and disproved in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Five former Virginia attorneys general have agreed with Miyares’ contention that Herring, as legal counsel to the Parole Board, had that authority, a contention Herring described as “a political thing.”
Herring is among a group of state attorneys general supporting the Justice Department’s efforts to block Texas’ near-total ban on abortions from going into effect. (A similar Mississippi law is also in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.)
He said he got involved because, “I am leaning in to protect women’s reproductive rights … and I have never, ever shied away from a fight to make sure that every Virginian who needs it has access to the full range of reproductive health services in Virginia.”
“I am proud of the historic progress we’ve been making in Virginia during my term,” Herring said. “But we know that progress is not guaranteed, and that the biggest challenges still lie ahead.”