If there is anything that the Democratic candidates for attorney general are certain to agree on, it is that they would be nothing like current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Both state Sen. Mark Herring and former prosecutor Justin Fairfax say one of their top priorities would be to review or reverse some of Cuccinelli’s actions, such as the controversial new regulations on abortion providers in Virginia that the attorney general helped push through with one of his rulings.
“For too long, we have seen Ken Cuccinelli politicize the office,” Herring said. “He has really undermined the credibility of the office, embarrassed us as a state and hurt Virginians.”
Likewise, Fairfax said he believes Virginians are tired of having a highly ideological attorney general.
“They want a new kind of attorney general,” he said. “They want someone who is going to focus on serious, high-level legal policy matters.”
Where the two candidates draw the biggest distinction is in terms of their background.
Fairfax is a former federal prosescutor, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in the major crimes and narcotics unit for the Eastern District of Virginia.
He notes that he is the only candidate in the race with prosecutorial experience, something he says “gives me a unique skill set” for the position.
Herring, who has operated a general civil law practice in Leesburg for 23 years and has served in the state Senate since 2006, argues that his combination of legal and political experience make him the best candidate.
The attorney general needs to have an in-depth understanding of state and local government to advise state agencies and the legislature, Herring said. In addition, “I know how to get things done there,” he said.
Aside from their shared desire to support pro-abortion rights, support equal rights for gays and lesbians and expand voting rights, Herring and Fairfax each have some different areas that they would focus on.
Herring said he would continue working on some of the issues that he began working on as a legislator. For example, he has sponsored bills banning “designer drugs” like bath salts and spice that were formulated to be legally sold in convenience stores.
“It’s something we have to continue to be vigilant on,” he said, because people will continue to try and develop new formulas to skirt the current laws.
Herring said he also would continue to monitor the need for protections for seniors and other vulnerable adults. Legislation making it a crime to commit financial fraud against seniors passed this year, an issue Herring said he has worked on since 2008.
Fairfax said one of his top priorities is creating educational opportunity and financial security for Virginia families.
This touches the attorney general’s role in two areas, he said – advocating for transparency in private student loans and taking legal actions to protect homeowners from unscrupulous lenders.
“When a family loses its home to a wrongful foreclosure … they don’t just lose four walls and a room, they lose the heart of their financial security,” he said.
Voters will have the chance to choose between the two candidates in the June 11 Democratic primary.