Virginia candidates woo prosecutors

August 2, 2013

VIRGINIA BEACH — All four candidates for Virginia governor and attorney general made a rare joint appearance Friday at a prosecutors’ convention, each making the case that he would do more to boost law enforcement than his opponent.

Gubernatorial hopefuls Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and Terry McAuliffe (D), and aspiring attorneys general Mark Obenshain (R) and Mark Herring (D) all vowed to boost the prosecutors’ salaries, which have lagged behind not just attorneys in private practice but those of public defenders as well.

But beyond that, their pitches to members of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, gathered for their summer conference at the Cavalier Hotel, were strikingly different.

The candidates were each allotted 10 minutes to address the group. They did not interact with each other or take questions from the audience. The candidates for lieutenant governor were invited but did not attend.

McAuliffe, the former Democratic National Committee chairman who by virtue of a coin toss spoke first, spent much of his time making his case against the $1.4 billion-a-year tax cut that his Republican rival has proposed, saying it would blow a huge hole in the state budget.

“That sounds great. Who doesn’t like to promise billions of dollars in tax cuts?” McAuliffe said.“But I think we understand the reality of the issue. … We will not be able to do what we need to do as it relates to education and on issues of public safety.”

Cuccinelli, the current attorney general, has said he would pay for the budget cuts by closing unspecified tax loopholes. He highlighted work he has done to combat human trafficking and beef up white-collar crime enforcement. He noted his support for maintaining Virginia’s anti-sodomy law, not for purposes of prosecuting consenting adults, but as an extra tool for use against adult sexual predators, some of whom could come off sex-offender registries if the anti-sodomy law disappeared. He said McAuliffe was trying to politicize the issue by portraying Cuccinelli’s support for the law as anti-gay.

“My opponent is trying turn this into a hot-button political issue,” Cuccinelli said. … “My first focus is getting the job done right. It’s not flipping the issue. I think it’s kind of sad that he’d sacrifice children like that.”

Herring, a state senator from Loudoun County, highlighted his support for tougher gun laws. He noted that Obenshain had received the endorsement of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights group that he said was holding a rally and raffling of a Glock 19 – the same make and model of the gun used in the Virginia Tech massacre – near campus this weekend.

“He stands with the gun auction in Blacksburg, and I stand for saying enough is a enough,” said Herring, who also invoked Obenshain’s opposition to abortion.

Obenshain, a state senator from Harrisonburg, shook his head as Herring spoke but did not directly respond to his comments when his turn came. He said he would focus his remarks on what he would do as attorney general “rather than engaging in the same type of hyper-partisan political attack.”

Obenshain touted his work on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, where he said he had endeavored to improve criminal law — pushing for mandatory life sentences for child rape, for instance — in close consultation with prosecutors from around the state.

“As attorney general, an important part of my job is going to be to help you,” he said. “I want you to know that my door will always be open to the prosecutors and Commonwealth’s attorneys across the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Obenshain said.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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