RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – The two Democrats in the Virginia Attorney General’s race met on the debate stage for the first time on Wednesday.
While they’re not far off on several political issues, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) and Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) reassuring voters that their experience will help them take office to a new level.
Herring, who is seeking a third term, started the debate by highlighting his achievements in office. He spoke about his work combating Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages, which Herring found unconstitutional not long after his appointment as Attorney General in 2014, and his legal challenges to protect the Affordable Care Act.
“With a life in the law, I have learned that progress requires commitment, courage, experience and the ability to put this experience into practice,” said Herring in his opening speech.
Jones hit back on Hering’s choice of words and revealed himself to be a fresh voice with a vision for the future of the Attorney General’s office.
“All the experiences in the world mean nothing when you have to be pressured to do the right thing,” said Jones in his opening speeches. “This office can do so much, and we have to look to this new decade in Virginia. Imagine we look at this old office in a new way. ”
Herring is 59 years old and Jones is 32 years old. One of the presenters on WJLA-TV, which hosted the debate in his Arlington studio, asked everyone what makes them the most qualified candidate.
Herring said no other attorney general in Virginia’s history has been more progressive in touting his work in helping immigrants at risk of robbery and veterans. Recalling George Floyd’s murder and the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Jones shared how his “lived experience as a black man” has led him to build on efforts that have already been made to address problems within the criminal justice system.
Jones added that Virginia needed an attorney general who would not be silent on these issues. In his response, Herring denied that he had taken no action against police violence. He cited his office’s work on changing police training with an emphasis on de-escalation in the wake of the Shoot the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
This eventually led to the most controversial moment in the debate. After exchanging barbs for creating the civil rights office in the attorney general’s office, an idea that accused Jones Herring of not resigning until after elementary school was established, Jones talked about Hering’s admission that he had worn a black face while in college.
Herring apologized to the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in a session after urging Governor Ralph Northam to resign following his own blackface scandal.
“I was there when you took the paper out of your jacket, flattened it on the table and read us a statement without empathy or compassion,” Jones said on Wednesday. “No feeling for how we felt as black legislators, as black people. And to be honest, that still pains me today. “
“I am very sorry for what I did once at the age of 19. It was over 40 years ago and I am very sorry for that,” Herring replied. “It doesn’t reflect the person I’ve matured into at all. Let alone the civil servant I became decades later. “
The caucus reiterated its own call for Northam to resign after that meeting, but said they would await further action from Herring “To convince the citizens of the Commonwealth of his leadership skills.”
The early voting for the June 8 pre-election is already underway. Voters will select Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Some voters will select candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates and other local races.
Four Republicans will be vying for their party’s nomination in an unassembled Congress on Saturday. The GOP candidates are Leslie Haley, Chuck Smith, Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) and Jack White.
This story will be updated.