FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Democrat Mark Herring is seeking a third term as attorney general, highlighting a progressive record that includes defending gay marriage, gun control and criminal justice reform.
Republican Jason Miyares, Herring's opponent in next month’s elections, looks at that same record with disdain, calling it part of the “far-left monopoly that’s been happening in Richmond the last few years.”
Perhaps the one thing the candidates agree on is that they disagree on so much. While Herring embraces liberals' plaudits for embracing criminal justice reform in the wake of George Floyd's death, Miyares portrays the Democrat's work as part of a “criminal-first, victim-last mindset” that is out of step with what Virginians want from their top law-enforcement officer.
Herring said he's proud of his record on crime, citing his efforts in human trafficking cases, prosecuting gun crimes and his work to clear a backlog of untested rape kits.
“I’ll stack my public safety record up against anyone,” Herring said. “But we also know that it’s important to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make policing safer, and our criminal justice system fair. We can do both of those things.”
Miyares, though, has targeted Herring for lining up with reformers who have wanted to eliminate cash bail and end qualified immunity, which makes it difficult to sue police officers for abuse.
“If you end qualified immunity, the only people who benefit, in many ways, would be trial lawyers,” Miyares said
While it's not a qualified immunity case, one high-profile case in which Herring's office stepped up is the criminal prosecution of U.S. Park Police officers Lucas Vinyard and Alejandro Amaya, who fatally shot northern Virginia motorist Bijan Ghaisar in 2017. When federal authorities opted not to prosecute, local prosecutors brought involuntary manslaughter cases against the officers.
The officers are claiming immunity from local prosecution in federal court, but Herring's office is working with local prosecutors to keep the criminal case on track. Herring said it's important to hold officers accountable when they act outside their authority.
Miyares said he wasn't familiar with the case and declined to say what he would do.
Herring, along with other Democrats running this year, has highlighted his support for abortion rights at a time when some activists fear that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to roll back abortion protections and let states impose stricter prohibitions. Herring cited his work to reverse earlier legal rulings from his Republican predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli, that sought to impose a series of strict licensing regulations on abortion providers.
Miyares said he opposes abortion with exceptions for cases of rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. He said he would not support the recently enacted abortion ban in Texas because it does not include those exceptions.
The two also differ on the emergency measures undertaken by Gov. Ralph Northam last year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Herring touted his record in court defending those restrictions as a public-health necessity. In a debate earlier this year, Miyares criticized the restrictions, noting that landlords were harmed when they couldn't evict tenants who didn't pay rent.
“It's easy for the governor to issue these executive orders,” Miyares said during the debate. “It can have an incredibly disruptive effect on people's lives. ... The governor said your liquor store could be considered an essential business that had to be stayed open but your places of worship couldn't, which I thought was a violation of our religious liberties."
On the campaign trail, Miyares is as likely to highlight his personal story as he is to mention his stance on the particular issues. He said his mother fled communist Cuba in 1965, and her experience has informed his development as an elected official.
“I have a immigrant's perspective on this country,” said Miyares, who served as a prosecutor in Virginia Beach and was then elected to the House of Delegates in 2015. “I love to say, ‘If your family came to this country seeking hope and opportunity, there’s a good chance your family’s a lot like my family.’”
Herring said that Miyares talks about his biography so much because his stance on the issues would be wildly unpopular with Virginians, including votes on gun safety that earned him an A rating from the National Rifle Association and environmental votes that earned him a failing grade from the Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.
“He knows his voting record, and his positions on the issues are way out of sync with where a majority of Virginians are,” said Herring, an attorney who served on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and in the state Senate before being elected attorney general. “And so he has dodged and tried to shape shift because he knows if his real positions are known, he will lose the election and lose it badly.”
Herring and Miyares are slated to meet in another debate Wednesday. Election Day is Nov. 2.