General election guide 2017: Meet the candidates for Virginia attorney general

WASHINGTON – Virginia’s attorney general is defending his record as the state’s top lawyer, including his historic decision not to defend the state’s gay marriage ban, as he faces a well-funded political newcomer touting his commitment to uphold the state’s laws.

Republican John Adams is challenging Democrat Mark Herring, who is seeking a second, four-year term. The two offer voters, who head to the polls on Tuesday, vastly different approaches to the office.

Herring led Adams in numerous polls and fundraising until October, when Adams matched Herring in spending and brought in more contributions. A $2.2 million donation Monday from the Republican Attorneys General Association gave the Adams campaign a last-minute shot in the arm.

The race has echoed many of the same themes as the race for governor – on health care, the economy and diversity.

Herring, like his fellow ticketmates, said he would build on the work of the McAuliffe administration and would focus on growing and diversifying the Virginia economy and ensuring the state is an inclusive place that’s attractive to businesses, workers and families.

Adams said he is running to ensure that the state has an attorney general who will defend the state’s laws.

Adams has attacked Herring’s most consequential position during his four years in office: the decision to not defend Virginia’s ban on gay marriage and instead support those challenging the law in a legal fight that ultimately led to a landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

“We live in a tumultuous time in this country and we need a renewed adherence to the rule of law,” Adams said during a debate with Herring in Loudoun County last month.

Herring has defended his work on same-sex marriage, saying that the state is better off for it. “It shows to ourselves, and the country, that Virginia is open and welcoming to everybody.”

Adams has also questioned Herring’s ability to run the office, which is now subject of a state review.

Earlier this month, a Republican-controlled legislative commission requested a broad study of the office including a review of pay raises and how the office has used money from asset forfeitures. The examination will also include the office’s Medicaid fraud control unit.

Herring called the legislative review “election shenanigans” and said he is proud of the work his Medicaid fraud enforcement staff has done, returning $70 million in taxpayer dollars.

Whoever wins on Nov. 7, issues regarding abortion, guns and gubernatorial authority will cross the desk of the next attorney general.

Here’s a look at the candidates and the campaign pledges they offer to voters.

John Adams

Republican candidate for Virginia Attorney General, John Adams. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Brief bio: Previously worked as a federal prosecutor and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. He also served George W. Bush in the White House counsel’s office. He has taken a leave of absence from his job with McGuireWoods, a large law firm with offices around Virginia. He has never run for office before.

Money raised: Adams brought in $3.4 million in October, according to campaign finance reports filed Monday. He had just $172,000 on hand before he received a $2.2 million donation from the Republican Attorneys General Association on Monday, cash not included in that most recent report, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks political spending.

Opioid epidemic: Adams has pledged to prosecute dealers and traffickers to help address the crisis of heroin and opioid overdoses. He would also expand education programming to elementary school students to “get to the kids before the drugs get to the kids.” He believes that treatment can be an effective tool and says he would use funds from seized assets to cover the cost of addiction treatment.

Social issues: Adams filed amicus briefs on behalf of Little Sister of the Poor and Hobby Lobby in cases challenging whether employer-sponsored health plans must cover birth control. “I thought it was wrong for the government to force people to do things that violated their religious beliefs,” Adams said.

Adams said he’s not running to block access to birth control. And, despite his criticism of Herring’s actions regarding Virginia’s now-defunct gay marriage ban, Adams does not seek to roll back the gay marriage decision, which he said is now the law of the land.

On health care, Adams supports the private insurance model and believes that it can provide affordable, quality health care to Virginians – including pre-existing conditions – without government intervention.

“Free market policies are the ones that ultimately lead to the best results for the most people and I’m proud to support it.”

Business: Adams said he would defend Virginia’s right to work law, which limits the ability of labor unions to require members to pay dues as a condition of employment. He has attacked Herring for filing briefs in other states and cases that don’t involve Virginia that “counter our right to work law.” “That is incredibly troubling to me. We are a right to work state – that’s a decision that we the people of Virginia have made. And we deserve to have a lawyer that is beholden to us, not to the unions.”

Mark Herring

Virginia Attorney General, Mark Herring. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Brief bio: Previously served in the Virginia Senate representing parts of Loudoun and Fairfax counties and also served on the county’s Board of Supervisors.

Money raised: Herring entered the final 10 days before the election with $1.5 million on hand. He brought in $2.7 million in contributions in October, according to campaign finance reports filed on Monday.

Opioid epidemic: Herring said he would like the General Assembly to update the state’s drug laws to address the mixing of heroin with fentanyl, a powerful opioid that is about 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The prescription drug is legally produced to treat chronic pain.

He’s worked with state lawmakers to pass a law that puts naloxone – an overdose reversal drug – into the hands of law enforcement and to train them to administer the treatment.

In additional to stepping up prosecution, he supports efforts to improve access to addiction treatment and education. “We’ve known from the beginning, this was not a problem we were going to solve with just arrests.”

Social Issues: Herring has joined lawsuits to halt travel bans imposed by the Trump administration. And he’s sued the federal government over efforts to halt an Obama-era program that allowed immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children to remain here.

He has pledged to fight for women’s health care choices including abortion and access to birth control. He touted a legal opinion that he issued that helped reverse a state Board of Health requirement that would have forced abortion clinics to meet the same building standards as hospitals, preventing many clinics from closing if they could not retrofit the facilities.

Business: Herring describes himself as pro-growth and touted his endorsement from the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

He said the next attorney general will have to be innovative as new business models clash with existing regulations. He highlighted his efforts to bring state regulators and Uber officials together to hammer out a deal that allowed the ride-hailing app to operate in the state and provided a model for legislation that was later passed with support from Democrats and Republicans.

“This will happen more and more,” he said. “We’ve got to get innovation right.”

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