RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The ideological divide between Democratic incumbent Mark Herring and Republican Jason Miyares has been stark this election season, with both candidates sharing opposing views on health care, crime and even the role of Virginia’s attorney general.
The attorney general has been called the commonwealth’s “top cop” and its “top lawyer,” different names used to describe the office holder that suggests different responsibilities.
Herring sees the position, one that he’s held since 2014, as Virginians’ lawyer. Miyares, a state delegate representing Virginia Beach, has attacked Herring’s record on crime and believes the AG’s role is to be Virginia’s top law-enforcement officer.
The candidates’ different visions for the office reflect a widening political divide between Democrats and Republicans. With the race tightening as Election Day inches closer, Herring and Miyares will soon learn how enthusiastic voters are for their agendas.
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 protection 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. The AG’s office also works with Virginia’s law enforcement agencies “to prepare for emerging public safety threats and to promote successful, secure communities.”
Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) has credited his mother, who fled communist Cuba and became a U.S. citizen, throughout his campaign for instilling “a passionate love of the freedom and democracy of America.”
Miyares, a former assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Virginia Beach, became the first Cuban American to be elected to the Virginia General Assembly when he won the vacant Virginia Beach House seat in 2015.
In a campaign video, Miyares vows to protect “the rule of law” and condemns efforts to eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement and reallocate funding away from police departments. On the campaign trail, through political ads and in debates, Miyares has tried to tie Herring to an increase in crime rates and the ongoing parole board scandal.
Last year, the state’s watchdog agency found the Virginia Parole Board violated the law and did not follow protocol when granting the release of certain inmates, specifically failing to notify local prosecutors and victims’ families. The attorney general does not have authority over the parole board and its decisions, a fact Herring has repeated, but the AG’s office does represent the parole board.
If elected, Miyares would become the first Latino to serve as Virginia’s attorney general. Since sweeping the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in 2009, Republicans have not won a statewide election in Virginia.
Attorney General Mark Herring was expected to run for governor this year before flipping the script and announcing his intentions to run for a third term.
A former state senator from Loudoun County, Herring has touted his office’s work to eliminate Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits and to protect people’s access to health care during his re-election campaign.
One of Herring’s most consequential decisions as attorney general came just weeks after he took office when he announced he was using his authority to deem Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Herring has targeted votes Miyares has made in the Virginia House, specifically one in 2018 rejecting Medicaid expansion in Virginia. The attorney general has campaigned on fighting to protect the federal Affordable Care Act health care program, saying Miyares would support limiting access.
Herring has also highlighted recent victories in court defending coronavirus restrictions imposed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and fighting efforts to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond.
Early voting is underway but in-person early voting ends Oct. 30. Virginia’s Election Day is Nov. 2.