by former Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk)
At the onset of President Nixon’s first term, his Attorney General John N. Mitchell said “watch what we do, not what we say.”
It’s been about a month since Virginia’s quadrennial transition of power and new administrations took the reins. Despite my open desire for the job and fierce Democratic allegiance, I genuinely wished the new Attorney General and his administration well – we’re all Virginians and the office can be a tremendous force for good. I know Jason Miyares and served with him for four years – in fact, he was the chief co-patron on the Ashanti Alert, my bill to create a missing persons alert for adult Virginians.
His victory was narrow (the slimmest of the three statewide races) and I had hoped that he would govern in a manner that reflected the closely divided nature of our electorate. I could not have been more wrong or more disappointed.
These last 30 days have been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster for Virginians. We have seen misstep after misstep and blatant incompetence from the AG’s office. In fact, I’ve even had Republican friends from out of state call me and ask “why can’t Virginia get its act together?”
The Attorney General professes to “call balls and strikes,” but all he’s done is put all Virginians in danger by pushing partisan politics and pandering to extremes. And make no mistake, he’s doing all of this in order to score points with Fox News, Sean Hannity and the far right fringes of the Republican Party. By my count, he’s appeared on Fox News at least once a week since taking office. With Miyares, right-wing media comes first and the Commonwealth a distant second.
But speaking to an eager audience who doesn’t know better isn’t the only way this current regime has failed its constituents. Just last week, the Washington Post reported that Miyares’ deputy Attorney General expressed support for the January 6th insurrection and its traitorous participants and “espoused unfounded conspiracy theories about voter fraud and election interference in more than a dozen Facebook comments that spanned months.” The most troubling part of all of this is that this deputy was tasked with overseeing elections-related litigation and providing counsel to the state’s electoral bodies. Miyares should have known better, and yet, he continues to focus on pandering, as opposed to policy and selecting appropriate individuals for his office.
A major part of the job of the Attorney General is filling roles with competent and qualified individuals, not putting those in positions of power where they can further seek to undermine our democracy. This administration’s personnel choices beg the questions: how many other hires has Miyares made that share Ms. Miles’ sentiments? Can we be sure the administration properly vetted all of its many hires after it cleaned house upon taking office? Can we trust that our state attorney’s office reflects the views of Virginians? A statement condemning January 6th isn’t enough – the Attorney General, as one of the purported overseers of free and fair elections in our state, must assure us all that there aren’t more traitors in his ranks and, if he doesn’t, this should be investigated immediately.
Dovetailing with the hiring of an insurrectionist supporter, Miyares fired several counsels at public institutions across Virginia, including UVA and George Mason. It was an unusual move – I’ve never heard of this before and figured, and later confirmed, that these decisions are typically left to the Boards of Visitors or the university presidents. Even more strange is that Miyares fired Timothy J. Heaphy, UVA’s counsel, who was on leave while participating in the US House of Representatives’ investigation into January 6th. This doesn’t play as calling balls and strikes – it reeks of retribution and partisan politics. It was even celebrated internally as a partisan move, further confirming the base motivations behind the removals. Fold in the appearance of a sham investigation into the Loudoun school system and it’s been a terrible series of events for the so-called “career prosecutor.”
Setting aside the cheap partisan declarations (removing Virginia from West Virginia v. EPA to play to his southwest coal baron friends and declaring the Constitution silent on abortion despite the precedent of Roe v. Wade), Miyares dismissed the bulk of the attorneys assigned to the office’s Civil Rights Division. Moreover, he hollowed out the Conviction Integrity Unit and walked back the office’s support of Ferrone Claiborne and Terrence Richardson’s petitions for a writ of actual innocence. When questioned, Miyares and team are evasive, as Miyares’ chief of staff (a non-lawyer) challenged me about their decision and the case after I criticized the move. It’s a true tragedy that the administration has chosen to be capricious in its pursuit of justice, remaining beholden to its desire to appear “tough on crime” and thus allowing innocent men to languish behind bars.
Taken together, this first month has shown that the Miyares administration isn’t up to the task set out for it and Miyares’ staff is plainly in way over their heads. Fox News might enjoy the red meat, but there are 8.5 million Virginians who are looking to the office for leadership, not partisanship. If we’re to endure four years of this, we may well be a broken Commonwealth come 2025. I can only hope that the Office of the State Inspector General is ready to work day in and day out based on the scandals, corruption, and missteps of the amateurs that are now in charge.
Thus far, Miyares has been anything but an umpire, and instead has acted as a hitter with a corked bat. Frankly, I’m ashamed that all of this has transpired in the Barbara Johns Building – I can only imagine how she’d feel about these first 30 days. I’m watching what Miyares does and says, and I’ll do everything I can over the next three years – standing with Virginians from each corner of the Commonwealth – to hold Jason Miyares and his abomination of an administration to account. Virginians deserve integrity, honor, responsiveness, and competence from their AG’s office, and sadly with Miyares at the helm, we’ll be waiting a long time to see even a glimpse of what we deserve.
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