March 8, 2013

The Post has once again chided me [“One job too many,” editorial, March 7] for keeping my promise to Virginians that I would serve my full four-year term as state attorney general. The Post reasoned that I should resign because several other Virginia attorneys general resigned when they ran for governor, in line with a “tradition” that has been consistently observed only since 1985.

Recently, Politifact Virginia found that no other state in the country has such a tradition of attorneys general resigning to run for some other office. Not one. Frankly, if I had run for a second term as attorney general, I would not have resigned so I could run for reelection. That would have been patently ridiculous.

Did The Post call on Barack Obama to resign the presidency to run for reelection because of some conflict between the roles of president and candidate? Of course not.

University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said the expectation that attorneys general resign to run for governor “is the dumbest tradition in Virginia politics.”

And Virginia political observer Bob Holsworth told The Post this week that the practice is “an obsolete and outdated tradition,” adding, “People run for governor while being attorney general without resigning in most other states. . . . The opponents are essentially picking at issues that would prevent almost any political figure from holding their position while running for higher office.”

Yet in recent years, attorneys general have been criticized whether they resigned or remained in office. When Mark Earley didn’t resign immediately after entering the 2001 race for governor, Virginia Democratic Party chair Emily Couric accused him of “misusing the attorney general’s office to further his political career.” But when Jerry Kilgore resigned in 2005, the spokesman for his eventual Democratic opponent, Tim Kaine, said that he “broke a promise” to the people by not serving his full term. They can’t have it both ways.

I announced more than a year ago that I would run for governor, and The Post and some Democrats called for my resignation then, claiming that I couldn’t do my job as attorney general while running for office. In the past year, however, I have secured more convictions against child pornographers than any other time in the office’s history, I announced the largest consumer protection fraud settlement against a pharmaceutical company in U.S. history, and I worked with Fairfax County to fight illegal EPA mandates that would have cost taxpayers nearly $300 million. I also directed office resources into more law-enforcement training around the commonwealth to fight human trafficking while working to get legislation passed to toughen penalties for this growing crime.

As for The Post’s claim that I can’t be an impartial attorney general while also being a candidate — especially if I were called upon to opine on the constitutionality of Virginia’s new transportation law after having publicly stated I am against the large tax increases in the law — my track record of the past three years dispels any such concern. Each week, I issue legal opinions on the law and constitutional issues — responding to requests made by Democratic and Republican elected officials alike — and not a single court in those three years has overturned any of those opinions. I have also written several opinions regarding laws or policies I didn’t necessarily agree with, but I wrote the opinions in accordance with the law, not my personal views. We get the law right, first and foremost. That’s how I have run the attorney general’s office since I was elected, and that’s how I will run it until the day I leave office.

Even former Democratic Party of Virginia chairman Paul Goldman and Post-affiliated blogger Norman Leahy said this week, “We have no evidence his political point of view will affect this legal opinion. None whatsoever.”

In years past, when I was on the other side of this issue as a voter, I — like many other Virginians — was disappointed that we only got three years out of attorneys general who were doing outstanding work in office. That’s why, when I ran to be attorney general, I promised that no matter what my future course, I would give the people of Virginia their full four-year term. That is a promise I intend to keep.

The writer is attorney general of Virginia.