Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring was first elected in 2013 on a promise to take the politics out of the office. He even promised to resign as attorney general if he ever decided to run for governor.
On Friday, five years after his initial promise, Mark Herring announced he was running for Governor of Virginia. He is not resigning from his role as Attorney General.
Mark Herring 2013: “too much politics in the AG’s office”
In a 2013 interview published in the Norfolk-based Virginia Pilot, Herring was highly critical of then then Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Cuccinelli had announced his run for governor two years previously, spending the entire second half of his term as both attorney general and gubernatorial candidate.
“Time and time again, we have seen way too much politics in the attorney general’s office,” Herring said. “It’s a political shop now, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
In many states the attorney general office is a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion, but this is especially true in Virginia. There are only three statewide elected offices, so other than the lieutenant governor there is no other official with a track-record of winning statewide elections.
It is so common for attorneys general to run in Virginia that Cuccinelli’s two immediate predecessors had both decided to run for the top job themselves. Unlike Cuccinelli, both stepped down from office to concentrate fully on their campaigns (Jerry Kilgore in 2005 and Robert McDonnell in 2009).
In 2013, Cuccinellis’ longstanding dual role as attorney general and candidate for governor was something Herring condemned. He promised he would not do the same thing in a key paragraph from the Pilot interview:
“In line with his pledge to take politics out of the office, Herring has said he would resign as attorney general if he decided to run for governor. Cuccinelli has weathered criticism for staying in office as he campaigns for governor, bucking a pattern set by several of his predecessors.”
Mark Herring 2018: “will not be resigning anytime soon”
On Friday December 7th Mark Herring confirmed to the Washington Post that he would be seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia in 2021 – three years before his second term as attorney general is complete.
“I’ve been really honored to play a part in building a safer, stronger, more economically dynamic and inclusive Commonwealth as a county supervisor, a state senator, and as attorney general,” he said. “And I think the best way to continue that work would be as Governor.”
This announcement prompted Virginia House of Delegates Majority Leader Todd Gilbert to yesterday call on Herring to honour his 2013 pledge.
“If he is a man of his word, Mark Herring’s resignation will be on Governor Northam’s desk by the end of the year,” the Republican said in a news release. “If Mark Herring doesn’t resign right away, his next round of campaign promises will ring hollow yet again.”
Todd’s criticism of Herring noticeably echoed the criticism Herring had once hurled at Cuccinelli. “From day one,” he wrote, “Mark Herring has used his office to put ideological political considerations above the law.”
Speaking to the Virginia Mercury, however, spokesperson for the Attorney General, Micheal Kelly, confirmed that Herring “will not be resigning anytime soon.” He also called Gilbert’s call “another typically partisan and predictable response.”
More parallels between Cuccinelli and Herring
When Ken Cuccinelli announced he would not be stepping down to run in the 2013 gubernatorial election, he said his “focus and priority for the next two years will be on doing the job I was elected to do as Virginia’s attorney general.”
Like Herring, other prominent Democrats were not buying this argument at the time. Then state party chairman Brian Moran said the decision to stay on was “further proof that his political career is about one thing and one thing only: Ken Cuccinelli.”
Now that positions are reversed, so has the rhetoric.
Speaking of his remaining three years as AG, Herring’s spokesperson Michael Kelly said he “has a lot he’s working on,” adding, “He will remain focused on being the best attorney general possible for the people of Virginia.”
Except, presumably, when he is focused on running for governor.