Virginia attorney general candidates face off in debate

LEESBURG, Va. (AP) — Republican attorney general candidate Jason Miyares relentlessly attacked Democratic incumbent Mark Herring for the actions of the state’s parole board at a debate Wednesday, while Herring said Miyares fundamentally misunderstands the duties of the office.

The two squared off in a debate sponsored by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, in a forum that was supposed to explore issues primarily of interest to the business community.

But Miyares, a delegate from Virginia Beach, spent much of his time attacking the Virginia parole board, which has been criticized for leniency on convicts and for failing to notify victims and local prosecutors when inmates were being released. He even turned a question on cybercrime into an attack on the board.

Herring said his office has nothing to do with parole board decisions, and he cited a fact-check article from Politifact that rated Miyares’ attacks as false.

“He has based his entire campaign on one issue — the parole board,” Herring said. “But time and again he’s been called out for getting the facts wrong and misleading voters by independent fact-checkers and reporters. And he’s gone out of his way to avoid saying (what the) job really is and what he would do.”

Still, Miyares said the attorney general should have made it his business to stop the parole board and file a lawsuit if necessary to ensure it followed the law. He said a top priority for his administration will be to investigate the parole board.

“We’ve had one of the worst scandals we’ve ever seen in Virginia government history that has been covered up and been ignored by this attorney general,” he said. “So on Day One, I’m going to investigate the parole board. I’m going to ask really hard questions.”

Throughout the debate, there were few if any points of agreement. Herring twice referred to Miyares as “a right-wing, Cuccinelli-style conservative who would abuse the office” — a reference to former state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a hardline conservative who later served as a senior official in the Trump administration.

He cited Miyares’ votes in the legislature against abortion rights, gun control and Medicaid expansion, arguing they show he is out of sync with a majority of Virginians.

Miyares, meanwhile, attacked Herring for embracing criminal justice reforms that he says reflect a “criminal-first, victim-last mindset.” Miyares said he will push for legislation that would allow the attorney general’s office to step in in place of local prosecutors who opt not to prosecute specific domestic violence and child sex abuse cases. He said the legislation is in response to the election of reform-minded prosecutors in northern Virginia whom he criticized as soft on crime.

“If you’re not willing to do your own job, let me do it for you,” Miyares said in reference to the northern Virginia prosecutors. “Let me hold these scumbags accountable.”

Herring, a two-term incumbent, touted his refusal when first elected in 2014 to defend the state’s ban on gay marriage, a ban he believed was unconstitutional. He said his position was vindicated when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bans on gay marriage were indeed unconstitutional.

Throughout the debate, the candidates made little mention of their counterparts at the top of the ticket in next month’s election — gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin.

McAuliffe, a Democrat, and Youngkin, a Republican, are locked in a tight, closely watched battle for governor in a race that both parties hope will help provide them national momentum heading into the 2022 midterms.

Election Day is Nov. 2.

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An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the candidates made no mention of their gubernatorial counterparts at the top of the ticket.

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