Everything bagel: The unlikely transformation of Mark Herring


Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Photo: Adrin Snider/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Photo: Adrin Snider/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com

Way back in November of last year, when State Senator Mark Herring squeaked into the attorney general’s office by a margin of 907 votes, nobody expected great things. Throughout his long career as a lawyer and elected official, Herring had developed a reputation as a capable-but-boring technocrat, a man who excelled at his job, but who was—in the words of a colleague—“as bland as a plain bagel.”

This cautiousness and lack of excitement also weighed down his campaign, which is probably why he came so close to losing to Senator Mark Obenshain, a far-right Harrisonburg Republican best known for attempting to criminalize miscarriage.

And yet, while all eyes were focused on newly elected Governor Terry McAuliffe and his ongoing battles with the General Assembly, Herring surprised everyone with a pair of decisions that couldn’t have stood in sharper contrast to the reign of ex-AG Ken Cuccinelli.

The first shocker came just days after Herring was sworn in, when Virginia’s new top cop declared that he would not defend the Commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban in court. This, predictably, enraged Republicans and spawned a steady drumbeat of conservatives demanding his resignation.

The second surprise came earlier this month, when Herring publicly opined that any child who was raised in the Old Dominion is eligible for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities, even if he was originally brought into the United States illegally. “These ‘Dreamers’ are already Virginians in some very important ways,” he said in a statement. “Instead of punishing and placing limits on these smart, talented, hard-working young people, Virginia should extend them an opportunity for an affordable education.”

There is a growing narrative that Herring is basically a liberal version of Cuccinelli, using (and abusing) the attorney general’s office to push his own personal agenda, with little regard for legal precedent or judicial restraint. But if you compare Cuccinelli’s early days in office—when he expended much energy hounding a University of Virginia climate scientist and pressuring the state board of health to increase abortion clinic regulations—it’s hard to make the case that Herring’s actions are anywhere near as petty or vindictive. They are, for better or for worse, the exact sorts of legal opinions that are the traditional province of the attorney general’s office.

As Herring himself told Washington Post columnist Roger McCartney, “When I make these decisions, I’m following the law. The positions are also good policy. They’re consistent with where I think a majority of Virginians are…That stands in stark contrast with Ken Cuccinelli, whose views were far to the right.”

It should also be noted that Cuccinelli has recently launched a “gun rights” law firm that offers pre-paid legal services to gun owners who fear they might shoot someone, then have to defend their actions in court. To help advertise his almost comically misguided “murder insurance” scheme, Cuccinelli’s firm launched a website which linked to an article about infamous “stand your ground” poster boy George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, in Florida in 2012.

Stay classy, Cooch—and enjoy your new life courting paranoid gun nuts. Meanwhile, Mark Herring will presumably continue to do the job he was hired to do—and we will continue to enjoy watching him do it.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, bi-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

  • Thomas Kelo

    We can all agree that Ken Cuccinelli was awful — but as far as choosing not to defend the overturn of Virginia’s gay marriage ban, I think the Republicans have been shockingly quiet on this one. I think the whole country is seeing the writing on the wall on this issue, thankfully. American opinions are changing fast on this — sure someone is going to end up being the George Wallace of this civil rights battle, fighting until the very end, but we ARE nearing the end, finally.

  • http://www.BR-549.com Junior Samples

    The problem has been the focus on irrelevant arguments – some of which are actually unsupported by the evidence.

    1. ‘George Zimmerman (GZ) racially profiled Trayvon Martin (TM)’ There is no evidence of this.

    2. ‘GZ disobeyed an order by the police’ * The civilian dispatcher, Sean Noffke, testified that he did not give GZ an order and, in fact, he, like his fellow dispatchers, are trained not make comments that sound like commands. * Noffke also testified under cross that, as a result of his asking GZ which way TM was going, GZ could have reasonably interpreted this as being asked to follow Martin. * It is also not a crime in Florida to disregard a comment made by a civilian dispatcher.

    3. ‘GZ got out of his car’ Not a crime on public property and not negligent either.

    4. ‘GZ followed TM’ Again, anyone can follow anyone on a public street unless the followee has obtained a restraining order against the follower and even there, the RS only places time, place, and manner restrictions on the person enjoined.

    5. ‘GZ wasn’t really injured’ * Under Florida’s self-defense laws, one doesn’t have to be injured AT ALL to use deadly force * No one is required to refrain from defending himself while another is engaged in or attempting to commit a felony.

    6. ‘TM is dead through no fault of his own’ * If you believe that TM assaulted GZ, then he IS dead as a result of his own actions.

    7. ‘GZ could have left’ * Under Florida law, there is not a duty to withdraw rather than use deadly force * TM was straddling GZ so how the latter was supposed to leave the scene is unanswered.

    8. ‘GZ was armed and TM wasn’t’ * One’s fists can be considered weapons and can result in severe bodily harm or death. * GZ was legally carrying a weapon * There is no requirement under the law that the same weapon be used by the assailant * A homeowner can kill an intruder whether or not he has been threatened * Those that attack cannot feign surprise if they are met with superior firepower.

    9. ‘Stand Your Ground!’ * SYG is NOT at issue in this trial. * The defense is a classic self-defense case.

    10. ‘Black men NEVER get to use SYG!’ * Wrong http://tinyurl.com/nboht35

    11. ‘GZ is a man and TM was a boy!’ * As if ‘boys’ don’t commit murder, rape, and assault everyday in this country.

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