‘Our work is not done’: A Q&A with Attorney General Mark Herring
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
With just a few days until this year’s election, polls have indicated a tightening race between Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, and Republican candidate Jason Miyares, a state delegate. This is the first in a two-part Q&A series with Herring and Miyares.
For Herring, a third term would be focused on defending progressive legislation from legal challenges and protecting Virginians who are marginalized, he says. If elected, Herring would be the first attorney general since 1945 to serve a third consecutive term. He talked to the Mercury about what he hopes to achieve, Virginia’s political landscape and more. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
VM: What do you think is the proper role of the attorney general?
Herring: I believe the attorney general is the people’s lawyer. My team and I, every single day, look for ways that we can use the law as a tool to help our fellow Virginians, especially those who are vulnerable, those who are discriminated against. People who truly need the arm and shield of the law. That’s why I’m running for re-election, because we have made so much progress over the last eight years with that vision that I brought. We need to continue to keep that progress and continue fighting for all Virginians.
How do you think Virginia’s political landscape has changed since you were first elected as attorney general in 2014?
I think Virginians are really pleased with the direction that my team and I have led. We have taken a bold stance in order to stand up and protect Virginians and their rights. One of the first things I did when I came into office eight years ago, was to go into court and say, ‘No, we’re not going to defend an unconstitutional ban on marriage for same sex couples. We’re gonna fight for marriage equality.’
We won a landmark case that is now the law of the land. We continue to protect Virginia’s Dreamers, making sure that all Virginians, new Virginians, whatever their background, that they truly are a full part of the commonwealth and the communities they live in. We continue to stand up and protect people’s health care from being taken away from them. Republican attorneys general time and again have tried to go to court to overturn the Affordable Care Act… All of these things have meant so much to so many people. I’ve heard from those who have been positively impacted by the way we lead on marriage equality, and it has made their lives so much better.
I will never forget stories… in Hampton Roads for example, women that I met with who were crying, fearing that their health care would be taken away from them. They were breast cancer survivors and they were afraid that they would lose their health care because it was a pre-existing condition. Issue after issue: protecting a woman’s right to choose, fighting for racial equity. In so many ways, we have really made Virginia a place that is open and welcoming to everyone. That’s obviously been good for Virginians, but it’s also been good for our economy. We’ve been named the best state in America back to back, and in large part that’s attributable to the work that my team and I have done to make Virginia a very inclusive and welcoming place.
If you were to win, you’d be the first attorney general to serve three consecutive terms in almost 80 years. Why did you decide to run again, and what would you hope to accomplish this time around if you were to win?
I’m incredibly proud of the progress that we’ve made in Virginia under my leadership over the last eight years, whether it’s been on making Virginia a place that is open and welcoming to everyone or protecting health care. But we know that progress is not guaranteed, and that our work is not done.
We have to do more to stop gun violence. When you’re the attorney general, there are times when you’re called upon to console those who have been victims of gun violence or their families, and make sure that you are doing everything you can to ensure that that type of pain is not felt by another family in Virginia. We have a gun violence problem in this country and in this state. We have finally begun to get new gun safety laws, which I have successfully defended from legal challenge. But there is more than we can do there, and it’s not just about new laws, but also expanding our efforts on gun violence interruption. We have run these programs successfully in my office. My team and I were able to have funding for nine months for a program in Richmond called Respect Richmond that lowered the homicide rate 50 percent and the overall violent crime by 30 percent. So whether it’s doing more to stop gun violence, or doing everything we can to protect the rights that are constantly under attack — like a woman’s right to choose, or healthcare, LGBTQ equality— we have to do everything we can to continue our progress in all of those areas and build on it.
You’ve been accused of politicizing the office by Republicans. Is there anything you do differently during a potential third term?
Well, those are Republicans trying to score some political points. But what Virginians can expect for me if I am honored to serve a third term, is a continued focus on using the law to help our fellow Virginians, whether it is protecting the important gains that we’ve made in LGBTQ equality, or health care, defending a woman’s right to choose, efforts to stop gun violence. We’re going to continue to hold on to those gains and continue to expand them as well. There’s a lot more work to do to address racial inequities throughout the different parts of our society whether it is in education, or health care, employment, transportation, housing. We’re going to continue to expand that work, and make sure that the attorney general continues to be a fighter for justice and for our fellow Virginians, protecting them and ensuring justice, equality and opportunity for all.
Do you think you’ll ever run for governor or do you plan on staying in this position?
I just want to be a good attorney general and help as many of my fellow Virginians as I can.
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