‘It’s a humbling thing’: Jason Miyares eyes chance to become first Latino attorney general

By: - October 29, 2021 12:01 am

Republican nominee for attorney general Jason Miyares, a state delegate from Virginia Beach, speaks during a GOP rally at Eagles Nest Rockin’ Country Bar in Chesapeake, Va., June 5, 2021. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the 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. Last in a two-part Q&A series with Herring and Miyares.

Two of the most vivid memories Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, has revolve around his mother’s path to becoming a U.S. citizen after she immigrated from Cuba. Those moments shape his politics as a delegate and make him proud to potentially be Virginia’s first Latino in the attorney general’s office, he said. Miyares talked to The Mercury about his background and his plans if elected, including a crackdown on crime. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

 VM: What do you think is the proper role of the attorney general?

Miyares: One of the key roles of the attorney general, you’re the intersection of the civil and criminal and you are there to protect Virginians but also you’re known as Virginia’s top prosecutor. Public safety is a huge mission of the Attorney General’s Office. I think a big key difference between myself and my opponent is that he’s been trained as a politician, and I’ve been trained as a prosecutor. When the murder rate in Virginia is at over a two decade high, people are concerned, so I want to go after human traffickers. I want to go after violent felons. I want to investigate school boards that aren’t reporting sexual assaults in schools as they’re doing in Loudoun. And so I think, right now, it’s clear to me that the right leaders focus on the right priorities and top priority for me is going to be safety and security for Virginians.

How do you feel about potentially being the first Latino to hold this position in Virginia?

It’s humbling. My story doesn’t begin in Virginia Beach. It begins in Havana, Cuba when a scared 19-year-old girl got on an airplane penniless and homeless and not knowing where the next meal is gonna come from. That was my mother, Miriam Miyares. I’d be the first elected attorney general also in Virginia history to be the child of an immigrant. So I love to say if your family came to this country seeking hope and opportunity, there’s a good chance your family is a lot like my family. It would be the biggest honor of my life to be your attorney general. 

One of my earliest memories was seeing my mother become a U.S. citizen. It instilled in me at a very early age that America is a nation of second chances, and I think we as a nation always have to remember that. We’ve given more second chances to more people from more backgrounds, more faiths, more creeds than any country in the history of the world. We should celebrate that fact, it’s a beautiful thing. If you ever want to feel proud to be an American, go to a naturalization ceremony. Not only is it one of my earliest memories as a child, but it’s my favorite thing to do as a state delegate, to speak at naturalization ceremonies. At the last time I spoke there were 116 people from 57 different countries from all backgrounds, and I love to be able to say it’s one of the great honors of my life to be able to be among the first to welcome you to our American family. I think it’s an amazing thing, it’s a humbling thing. It would be an incredible honor to be the first child of an immigrant, the first elected Latino to any statewide office in Virginia.

How does your background inform your politics?

I was raised to have such an appreciation that I can breathe air as a free American. I tell my daughters all the time, gratitude is one of the most underrated of all human traits. Ingratitude is one of the ugliest. … I was raised to have such gratitude that I can live here, and it also gives me great appreciation for our Constitution and protection for all Virginians and all Americans. It’s really what makes us so unique is that in America no matter who you are, no matter what your background is, no matter whether you’re rich, poor, Black, White, no matter what your background, you’re going to be treated equally under the law. We take that, sometimes, for granted. We think that’s the normal state of existence. In reality, most people on this planet wake up in a totalitarian society, or societies that take away their individual dignity, or societies that say you don’t have a right to worship God according to the dictates of your conscience, or individual freedom, or the freedom of press, or the freedom of assembly. I think those are such amazing components of what we are as a free pluralistic society. So being the child of somebody that fled an autocratic regime gives me such appreciation and reverence for the Constitution and what makes America such a unique, amazing place. I want to be a champion for everyone, for all Virginians, and make sure that everyone’s treated equally under the law.

You’ve focused on crime and public safety in your campaign. What can the attorney general’s office do to cut crime rates? 

First of all, we need to investigate the Parole Board. The Parole Board has let out cop killers, murderers, and rapists, sometimes [with] decades on their sentence, and they’ve committed more crime. If somebody like David Simpkins who had 56 prior felony convictions, and he was supposed to be in prison in the year 2066. They let him out 46 years early, and he commits his 57th felony. He committed an armed robbery. You have someone like Patrick Schooley Jr.. He was given a life sentence for the home invasion and murder of a grandmother. He was put back on the street, and the victim’s family found out about it when they heard about it on the nightly news. That was in violation of the law. … If I find out any state agency, whether it’s a parole board or any state agency, that is violating state law, I’m going to inform the governor of the violation of state law. If I have to take him to court to force him to follow the state law, I will. Mark Herring won’t do that. But the second thing is you need to make sure you’re not afraid to investigate where people are pushing policies and conducting themselves in a way that makes our kids less safe. You see this in Loudoun County just this week, the students had a walkout in Loudoun County Public Schools over the lack of safety in the public schools. … You had a perpetrator that walked into a bathroom and assaulted a young ninth-grade female victim, and he was simply transferred to another school where he assaulted, allegedly, another victim. 

… Finally, one of my top legislative priorities, which Glenn Youngkin has said he will sign into law, is to give me the authority — we have local prosecutors that have refused to prosecute certain cases to the fullest extent of the law —  to step in. You have some of these far-left social justice prosecutors who have been elected in Fairfax, and Loudoun and Prince William. In Loudoun, they dropped a host of domestic violence cases. In Fairfax County, you had an individual that was a child rapist. He had raped and assaulted a five-year-old child over the course of a year and was eligible for a life sentence. The prosecutor dropped the harshest sentence, because he thought life in prison for a child rapist is too harsh, and over the objection of the victims they agreed to a 17-year sentence, which means the child rapist is eligible for parole in 10 years because of geriatric parole. Ten years for child rapists is unconscionable, that is stunning. So, if you’re not willing to do your job, the attorney general is going to step in and do your job for you. … The attorney general has original jurisdiction on computer crimes, so I’ll join a task force with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute gun crimes and also on human trafficking. There’s so much good that office can do to go after violent criminals to get them off the streets.

You mention election integrity on your website. Do you have confidence in Virginia’s Department of Elections, after having won election three times as a House member? What’s the role of the attorney general in election integrity?

I think it should be easy to vote and hard to cheat. I think that should be the standard we all should strive for. I do have confidence in our election systems. But I also think we need to have photo ID. … I think it’s common sense. It requires a photo ID for me to get a library card, or to get a book out of a library, or to get on an airplane, or to pick up my prescriptions. I can get a photo ID, and I think it just gives everyone on both sides of the aisle confidence in our election system. It polls very highly, even the majority of Democrats think photo ID makes a lot of sense. That’s the first step to just make sure that everyone has confidence. …

Equal protection under the law is a bedrock principle of the Attorney General’s Office. That means everyone should have equal access to the ballot boxes. So, I think, that is an absolute critical role of the attorney general to make sure that every Virginia has access to the ballot box, and it’s something that I take seriously. One of my early memories was being a child and my mother— she was not able to cast the ballot until she was 38 years old, she became an American citizen, and then was finally able to cast the ballot at age 38 — the first time in her life to have a choice or elected leader was going to be in the pride she had taking me with her to watch her do that. So, I will always want to stand up and protect that precious right to vote for all Virginians.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Jackie Llanos Hernandez was a Virginia Mercury intern while studying journalism and anthropology at University of Richmond. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian.