Herring to seek Virginia attorney general office

State Sen. Mark Herring has confirmed he’ll run for the Virginia attorney general post in November 2013, a move brought about largely from his disgust with the actions of current attorney general Ken Cuccinelli.

Herring, a Leesburg Democrat, has been speaking with supporters and “seriously considering” his first statewide run for several months. In an interview Monday with the Times-Mirror, he said his desire to restore credibility to the office of the state’s top lawyer cinched his decision.

“The reason I’m running is because of how [Cuccinelli] has abused the powers of the office,” Herring said. “And those that are lined up on the Republican side view how he has run the office as a model to follow. And we cannot afford four more years of that. Virginia deserves a lot better.”

The Republican Cuccinelli has been something of a firebrand in his two-and-a-half years in office. He’s made state and national headlines with his subpoena-style demand for a University of Virginia researcher’s records regarding environmental science. The Tea Party darling has been a leading voice against President Barack Obama’s health care law, filing suit against the federal government over so-called ‘Obamacare’—a lawsuit that was eventually thrown out. Additionally, he pressed legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency for its finding that greenhouse gases affect public health.

Herring said the job of the commonwealth’s attorney general isn’t to twist the law and interpret it to suit his or her own agenda. The attorney general of Virginia isn’t supposed to use the office to score political points and advance his career, he said.

“It’s very disturbing, and it’s undermined the credibility of the office.”

The 2012 session of the General Assembly – something Herring looks back on with dismay – was another factor in his attorney general bid. In what Herring calls the most divisive four months of which he’s even been part, Republicans and Democrats went toe-to-toe over issues of abortion and ‘personhood,’ the appointment of a gay judge, voter ID legislation and regional transportation funding.

“If I hadn’t lived through it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Herring said in a recent email.

It’s this political grandstanding that has no place in the office of the attorney general, Herring says. The lawyer by trade promises to interpret the law regardless of the politics behind it.

Herring said prominent legal issues of the day include the spread of dangerous synthetic drugs, the financial and emotional abuse of elderly – the senator has sponsored legislation aimed at strengthening laws in this respect – and working with the state to implement elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which has been affirmed as the “law of the land.”

As a contrast from Cuccinelli, Herring said he’d encourage, rather than deter, more scientists and researchers to come to the state.

A native Virginian, Herring began his political career in 2000 when his first term on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors commenced. In 2006, Herring won a special election to the Virginia senate over Republican Mick Staton. The 33rd District seat was previously held by Bill Mims, who vacated to serve in the attorney general’s office and currently serves on the Supreme Court of Virginia.

Thus far, Herring is without a competitor within his party. Several names, including Arlington lawyer Mike Singer and Richmond commonwealth attorney Michael Herring, have been tossed around as likely to run, but no official announcements have been made. On the Republican side, state Sen. Mark Obenshain and Del. Robert Bell are expected to run.

In sum, the attorney general’s office is charged with providing legal advice and representation to state agencies, commissions, boards, the legislature, lieutenant governor and the governor, and assisting in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Sitting in his second-floor East Market Street office, Herring said marrying his love for practicing law with his policy experience would be a welcome transition.

“The attorney general should apply the laws evenly and fairly to protect all Virginians, regardless of the personal or political agenda of any single attorney general,” he said.