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In the race for attorney general, Democratic incumbent Mark Herring faces Republican John Adams in a heated battle over political ideology and the appropriate use of that office.
Herring, a former state senator from Loudoun County, won election in 2013 by 165 votes (out of 2.2 million cast), winning a campaign that saw him repeatedly pledge to remove politics from that office. That resonated after four years of polarizing Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who declined to seek re-election.
However, Herring reversed himself almost immediately when he declined to defend the state’s law banning same-sex marriage. Many voters felt betrayed, even though the attorney general was correct to conclude that accepting same-sex marriage puts Virginia on the “right side of history.”
That was the most notable example of Herring steering the office with political outcomes in mind, though hardly the only one.
He surprised many gun owners with an abrupt decision to cancel reciprocal agreements with other states governing concealed-carry handgun permits, and he has repeatedly challenged the Trump administration on issues ranging from the Clean Power Plan to the birth control mandate in Obamacare.
So it’s little surprise that Adams, a Chesterfield County native making his first run for office, has pointed to these actions as evidence of Herring’s broken promises. Adding injury to insult, he has also resurrected Herring’s promise to remove politics from the office, using it against the incumbent.
He is a sharp, focused and thoughtful candidate who argues the attorney general’s office should be more limited in scope and stay out of the larger legal fights being waged by coalitions of attorneys general.
It’s a fine argument, but it falls flat. There is no way to fully remove politics from the attorney general’s office, and even Adams concedes that his office would line up with peers in other states depending on the circumstances and the issues.
Herring hasn’t been perfect, but he has been solid. His efforts to address the opioid epidemic and eliminate the backlog of rape kits in Virginia are among his noteworthy accomplishments.
He remains the better candidate for the next four years.