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Del. Jay Jones considering bid for Virginia attorney general

Del. Jerrauld C. “Jay” Jones (D-Norfolk) on Feb. 21, 2019 delivered a speech on racial equality on the floor of the House of Delegates in Richmond, Va. (Video: The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — Del. Jerrauld C. "Jay" Jones, a Norfolk attorney who is the son and grandson of local civil rights figures, is exploring a run for Virginia attorney general next year.

Jones, who first won election to the House in 2017, has been discussing a possible run with fellow Democrats, six current and former delegates said this week. Jones confirmed their accounts in an interview late Tuesday.

No candidate from either party has formally entered the race.

“I am exploring a run for attorney general,” he said. “We’re at a point in Virginia’s political trajectory — it’s a new decade, we’ve got new faces — and I think there’s a lot I could offer in that spot. And that’s why we’re looking at it.”

One of the youngest members of the Legislative Black Caucus, Jones, 31, would be seeking to succeed Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who in December 2018 said he was running for governor in 2021.

Herring’s bid to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam (D) was thrown into doubt in February 2019, as both the attorney general and governor admitted that month to wearing blackface costumes as young men in the 1980s. As those scandals unfolded, two women accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) of sexually assaulting them in the early 2000s. Fairfax, who also has said he will run for governor, has strongly denied the allegations.

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Amid that turmoil, Jones made his best-known speech on the House floor, urging the state’s leaders to confront the past and present racism that he said divides the state into two — white Virginia and black Virginia.

“We have our choice: to ignore what has happened and paper over yet another wound and continue on with the two Virginias, or to face our challenges head on, acknowledge our incredibly difficult history with race in this state, and vow to move forward together on our shared journey,” he said. The speech brought the chamber to its feet.

As a delegate, his first elective office, Jones successfully pushed for legislation to ensure that school resource officers have better training to de-escalate situations with students, an effort meant to end what youth advocates call the school-to-prison pipeline. He also has sought, without success, to give the State Corporation Commission greater authority over Dominion Energy, one of the state’s most prolific political donors.

Jones is a partner at Bischoff Martingayle in Norfolk, where he mainly focuses on civil litigation. He earned an undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary and his law degree from the University of Virginia.

He is the son of two judges. His father is Circuit Court Judge Jerrauld Corey Jones, who served in the House from 1988 until 2002, when he became director of juvenile justice under then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D). Jones recalled in his floor speech how his father faced racist taunts as a 6-year-old, as he integrated Ingleside Elementary School in Norfolk in 1960. His mother is Lyn Simmons, a Norfolk juvenile-justice judge and former prosecutor.

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In his speech, Jones recalled that his grandfather Hilary H. Jones came home from World War II and found he had to leave Virginia again. He wanted to attend law school, but none of the state’s schools admitted blacks.

Returning to Norfolk as a lawyer, Hilary Jones helped challenge “massive resistance,” the state policy to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling outlawing segregated schools.

“It’s an incredible turn of history that my grandfather, who was fighting an attorney general who was trying to enforce massive resistance — two generations later, his grandson is looking at pursuing that same office to do the opposite, which is to make this commonwealth as fair, equitable and just as possible,” Jones said in the interview Tuesday.

Jones said he had no timetable for making a decision, in part because much of the state is focused on the coronavirus pandemic.

The health and economic crisis also has kept the governor’s race quiet.

Northam cannot run next year because the state constitution prohibits back-to-back gubernatorial terms. In addition to Herring and Fairfax, other potential Democratic contenders are former governor Terry McAuliffe, state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (Richmond) and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) already has filed candidate paperwork with the state.

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On the Republican side, Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield) is the only declared candidate, while Northern Virginia businessman Pete Snyder has said he is considering a bid.

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