by State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond)
I am a proud Democrat who has had the honor of serving the Commonwealth in three different offices including Commonwealth’s Attorney, House of Delegates and, currently, the Virginia State Senate. However, on Tuesday June 8th, I will not be voting for Democrat Mark Herring. There are three (3) primary reasons why Mark Herring has lost the trust of the Electorate and does not deserve re-election. Please consider the following and decide for yourself whether or not Attorney General Herring deserves a third (3rd) term in office.
First, the hypocrisy associated with Mark Herring’s blackface episode in 2019 is simply indefensible. Let’s review. On Friday February 1, 2019, a photograph allegedly depicting Governor Northam in blackface, spread like wildfire over the Virginia airwaves. Before Governor Northam even had a chance to defend himself, Attorney General Herring was front and center demanding that Governor Northam vacate his office. Regarding the blackface photo, Herring looked into the cameras and stated unequivocally: “he (Northam) must go because there is an erosion of trust”. Indeed, Herring doubled down. Several days later on the WAMU KOJO NNANDI show, Herring stated: “I want to be clear about this, I would hold myself to the same standard”.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Herring’s own blackface scandal erupted days later on February 6, 2019 – Herring was captured in a college blackface photograph. Herring made a quick “b-line” to the Legislative Black Caucus and apologized profusely. He stated succinctly to the LBC: “My use of blackface was a dumb, cruel and racist action that dehumanizes people of color and minimized a horrific history of exploitation and oppression. I am deeply sorry for the pain it has caused…it has haunted me for decades”.
In my opinion, the only thing that Herring was sorry about was that he got caught. Indeed, if Herring’s transgression thirty (30) years ago “haunted him for decades” why did he wait so long before coming forward with his mea culpa? The abject hypocrisy in Herring calling for Northam to resign for his alleged blackface and not resigning himself is reason enough to cast your ballot for Jay Jones. But there is more.
My second reason for not supporting Mark Herring is his woeful lack of leadership as an elected official. Consider just two examples: In 2006, then State Senator Mark Herring voted in favor of the marriage amendment thus denying same sex Virginians the right to marry the person that they love. The majority of Virginians supported the marriage amendment and he was squarely in their corner. However, fast forward to 2013. Herring is now running for Statewide office as Attorney General and Virginians’ view on same sex marriage has dramatically changed – they’re now in favor of it. So, what does Herring do? He suddenly has an epiphany and is now in favor of same sex marriage. Folks that is not leadership, rather it is what we call in politics “jumping on the band wagon”.
The third reason not to support Mark Herring is his horrific record on Criminal Justice Reform. Herring is now traveling the state and taking credit for Virginia General Assembly reforms in the area of Criminal Justice. Herring’s attempt to take credit is simply not justified. For example, Herring takes credit for Delegate Jay Jones’ leadership in abolishing the death penalty. However, Herring’s voting record as a State Senator reveals that he voted 16 times to keep the death penalty in place!
Additionally, Mark Herring Regularly takes to the stage and tells Virginia Democrats that his office leads the fight in overturning wrongful convictions. REALLY! Consider the Norfolk Four. In 1997, four former Navy sailors known as the “Norfolk Four” were wrongfully convicted of a 1997 rape that garnered national attention. Many Virginia Democrats and one courageous Republican stood up for the “Norfolk Four”. Governor Tim Kaine granted a Clemency Petition to the Norfolk Four in 2009. Governor Terry McAuliffe followed this up and issued an Absolute Pardon for each of the four when DNA evidence linked the rape and murder to a 5th man, Omar Ballard. Richard Cullin, a former Republican U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia was stunned by the lack of evidence against the Norfolk Four and called it “the worst miscarriage of justice I have experienced in my forty (40) years as a lawyer”. United States District Court Judge John Gibney was the final arbiter and issued a definitive ruling: “Omar Ballard and Ballard alone killed Michelle Bosco”. Judge Gibney then vacated all of the Norfolk Four convictions. So, where was Herring on this issue you ask? During every single court hearing, Mark Herring and his office defended the convictions of the Norfolk Four and urged the Court to reject their innocence.
Attorney General Herring travels the political hustings and champions his offices use of DNA evidence to exonerate the innocent. Once again, the facts do not support his boasting. On March 17, 2019, a unanimous Virginia Supreme Court issued a Writ of Actual Innocence for Winston L. Scott because DNA evidence exonerated him. One year later, On March 4, 2018, another unanimous Virginia Supreme Court issued a Writ of Actual Innocence for Roy L. Watford, III who was wrongfully convicted of a 1997 rape. Supreme Court Judge Colin Powell stated in her Watford ruling that “the Commonwealth cannot point to any evidence that even establishes Watford was at the [crime scene] on the day of the attack”. In her ruling, Justice Powell noted that “DNA evidence in 2016 found conclusively that Watford’s DNA did not match the DNA profile found at the scene”. So, what did Mark Herring have to say? He called the Watford case “unsettling” but still opposed the Writ of Actual Innocence!
In eight (8) years in office, Mark Herring did not champion or advocate for a single piece of legislation that called for the abolishment of the death penalty, a ban on chokeholds or no knock warrants, the expansion of mental health dockets, the expungement of criminal records, the end to the jury penalty, or the repeal of mandatory minimums. Jay Jones, on the other hand, was front and center on all of these issues.
Folks, you will be the judge and jury on June 8, 2021. Mark Herring’s hypocrisy, failure to lead and deplorable record on criminal justice reform simply do not warrant a third term in office.
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Joe Morrissey is a Virginia State Senator representing the people of the 16th district.
Background Photo “Virginia Capitol” by Martin Falbisoner. CC BY-SA 3.0.