For attorney general, we favor the incumbent, Democrat Mark Herring. Mr. Herring won the office four years ago by assailing the partisanship of his arch-conservative Republican predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli II. Once in office, he was attacked for being almost equally activist as a champion of leftist causes. Yet Mr. Herring plausibly argued that his highest-profile decision — refusing to represent the state, his client, in a lawsuit challenging its ban on same-sex marriage — was a principled decision tantamount to declining to defend segregated schools in mid-20th-century Virginia. The Republican candidate, John Adams, an intelligent corporate lawyer, attacks Mr. Herring for spurning his own client, acknowledges that he, too, would have refused to defend segregation; but discounts the analogy. Advantage Mr. Herring.
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. A former U.S. Navy officer who was stationed for a time in Virginia Beach, Adams spent time as an associate counsel for President George W. Bush and as an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia before landing at McGuire Woods.
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.
Mr. Herring has done the job he was elected to do, and he has served the state well. An element of his performance that has not drawn enough attention involves with his work to revitalize the office’s efforts to advocate for consumers, particularly as it relates to predatory lenders, business monopolies and the insurance marketplace. This work has certainly benefited voters of all political persuasions, and if Mr. Herring wins reelection we hope he will continue to work on the citizens’ behalf.