Democratic Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and his challenger, Republican John Adams, met Friday morning in Loudoun for a debate that centered on politics versus results.
At a forum organized and hosted by the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce, each candidate argued the other was a focused on pushing his political agenda rather than getting results for Virginians.
Herring described himself as a “pro-business, pro-opportunity attorney general.”
“To me this job is not about politics. It’s about serving fellow Virginians,” he said. “I believe the attorney general is the people’s attorney, and that is why I am accountable to you.” He pointed to the state’s economic and employment growth since he took office alongside the McAuliffe administration.
Adams went immediately on the offensive, casting Herring as putting politics over law, and accusing Herring of selectively defending Virginia laws in court.
“I am actually running for the same reason Mark said he was running last time,” Adams said. “I am running to get the politics out the Attorney General’s Office. The Attorney General’s Office today is so overwhelmed by political views that it fails to do its fundamental job.”
The two were asked about last week’s vote by the Republican-led Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission directing its staff to conduct a study of the Attorney General’s Office. It will include a look at how the office handles asset forfeiture, salary increases, and whether the office has property reviewed state contracts.
Herring dismissed it as politically motivated.
“I think we’re used to those kinds of election-year shenanigans,” Herring said. “Just a week before they announced it, the General Assembly’s own Auditor of Public Accounts gave us a clean audit.”
They were also asked about what they can do about the backlogs of cases in the justice system. Herring, who lives in Leesburg, said voters have to hold legislators accountable. The General Assembly this year removed funding for a judge on Loudoun’s Circuit Court during a vacancy left by the retirement of Judge Burke F. McCahill, further straining Loudoun’s already overloaded courts.
Herring also voiced tentative support for a Chamber of Commerce proposal to create a separate business docket in the courts.
“I think that’s something worth exploring, because criminal cases and other ones often take priority—and rightly so, but that often means that business cases get moved back in the line,” Herring said.
Adams also express support for the idea.
On the topic of the opioid epidemic, Herring pointed to the work his office has done in the past four years.
“We’ve known from the beginning this was not a problem we were going to solve with just arrests,” Herring said. He pointed to new legislation, including to equip law enforcement with the overdose antidote naloxone.
“We have to get serious about prevention,” Adams said. “We have to get to the kids before the drugs get to the kids.” He added Virginia has to “get serious” about recovery and prosecution, and said he would use his experience as a federal prosecutor to fight the opioid crisis.
“That’s probably one reason by the Fraternal Order of Police and the Police Benevolent Association, two of the largest law enforcement groups in the commonwealth, have endorsed me,” Adams said. “Because they know that I’m serious about this.”
Both cast themselves as business-friendly, law-oriented attorneys. Adams said one of the biggest problems the country faces is regulatory overreach, and said he is committed to a top-down review of “every regulation in Virginia.” He also repeatedly asserted his support for Virginia’s right-to-work laws.
Adams defended his desire to repeal Affordable Care Act protections, such as those that require insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions: “I believe that we can achieve those results from the free market.”
Herring said, “government should only regulate when it is absolutely necessary, and the need to make sure that the regulations are a clear and simple, because everybody’s got to be able to use them, and read them, and understand them.” He said regulation is also challenged by innovation and new technology.
Adams said he would “vigorously enforce” laws around Medicare fraud, and Herring pointed to his record on the topic.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the work that my team does, and the prosecutors going after it,” Herring said. “We have returned $70 million to taxpayers. It was named the best in the nation by the office of the inspector general.”
And in the tradition of the now-famous question in 2016 presidential debate asking Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to say something the like about the other, the two were challenged to name something they admire about the other.
“I can tell when people are fudging, I can tell when they’re not,” Adams said. “I think his genuine care and concern about the opioid crisis I think is real. I think he feels it. I happen to think my response and solutions and leadership experience are better at getting results, but I admire him for his genuine care and concern.”
“I would say it’s John’s record of public service,” Herring said. “He served our nation, he has served as law clerk in two different courts, including the Supreme Court. … That reflects a real commitment to civic and public service, and that speaks to why he’s running for public office.”
The debate, the two candidates’ second, was held at the National Conference Center in Lansdowne. It was moderated by Chamber president and CEO Tony Howard. Questions were posed by Maggie Parker, vice president of communications and community outreach for Comstock Partners; Stacey Miller Metcalfe, director of government & community relations, Inova Loudoun Hospital; and Lisa Hooker, assistant vice president of public relations for NOVEC.
Adams has never held elected office before. If reelected, Herring would be the first Attorney General to serve two terms since Democrat Mary Sue Terry, who served from 1986 to January 1993, when she resigned to run for governor. Attorneys general in Virginia often run for governor after their first term.