First debate in race for Virginia attorney general highlights ideological divide between Herring and Miyares

Virginia Elections

Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Miyares photo from the delegate’s campaign and Herring photo courtesy of the AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) pitched themselves as ideological opposites Tuesday when they sparred over key issues in the first debate between statewide candidates ahead of the Nov. 2 general election.

In Tuesday’s virtual debate, hosted by the Virginia State Bar, Herring and Miyares spoke about health care coverage, their solutions to combat gun violence, police reform, voting rights and the role of the attorney general’s office.

The debate came just a week after Herring defeated primary challenger Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) and more than a month after Miyares secured the GOP nomination in the race for attorney general. With the inter-party battles behind them, the candidates used Tuesday to spotlight their differences to voters.

Herring touted his record as a two-term incumbent at the start of the debate, highlighting his decision to deem Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, work to eliminate Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits and protect people’s access to health care.

“In this race, there is a clear and stark contrast that voters will have between my proven record of protecting Virginians and expanding rights and conservative activist Jason Miyares, who would abuse the powers of the office to rollback all of those gains and make Virginians less safe,” Herring said in his opening remarks.

Miyares began by speaking about his mother’s journey from Cuba and his time as a criminal prosecutor, saying his personal experience allows him to remain aware of the challenges victims of violent crime go through.

“Unfortunately, Mark Herring has forgotten our victims. Why? Because he’s been pushing a criminal first, victim last mindset that’s made Virginians less safe and less secure,” Miyares said during his opening.

Called “the Commonwealth’s law firm,” Virginia’s Office of the Attorney General can conduct or assist certain criminal investigations and prosecutions, provide information to the public on scams and enforce state consumer protections laws. Among several other duties, the attorney general can also issue official legal opinions to lawmakers and give legal advice and representation to the governor and state government agencies.

Both candidates presented different views on the role of Virginia’s attorney general, with Herring saying he believes the AG should be “the people’s lawyer” and Miyares defining it as “the top cop for Virginia.”

These distinctions reflect their opposing views for the office. Miyares said the attorney general should not allow politics to influence the job, vowing to not supersede the authority of the Virginia General Assembly or governor if elected.

“I’m going to enforce whatever law the general assembly and the governor passes,” Miyares said. “I’m going to be loyal to the authority of the U.S. Constitution, the Virginia Constitution and the code of Virginia. That’s the key point and key difference between myself and Mark Herring.”

Herring argued the job is to help protect the rights of Virginians, pointing to his decision to not defend Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.

“One of the first things I did as attorney general was to go into court and say no, we are not going to defend an unconstitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples,” Herring responded. “We are going to fight for marriage equality and we won. And look at all the progress we made.”

Miyares went through the Virginia GOP convention relatively unscathed. Herring, on the other hand, had a tough battle in the primary. While Herring came out on top, Del. Jones was able to build a coalition of supporters and even picked up an endorsement from Gov. Ralph Northam.

In his closing statement Tuesday, Miyares made sure to point out that the governor didn’t back Herring in the Democratic primary.

“Mark Herring has served alongside Ralph Northam for the past eight years,” Miyares said, “and not even Ralph Northam thinks Mark Herring deserves another term as attorney general.”

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