Virginia has never elected an African American as attorney general. Jones, who is black, framed his bid as the culmination of a civil rights journey, at a time when Virginia is taking down Confederate monuments and wrestling with how to address racial inequity.
“This decision is truly generations in the making,” Jones said Monday in a statement announcing his bid. “Five generations ago, my ancestors were freed from the shackles of slavery. Just two generations ago, my grandfather endured systematic racism and discrimination on his journey to becoming a pioneering black lawyer in Virginia. And in 1960 my father and my uncle were two of the first black students to attend an all-white elementary school in Norfolk, Virginia.”
Jones becomes the first member of either major party to officially announce his candidacy for that office. Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) has signaled an interest in running for governor but could also make another run for the office he has held for two terms.
Candidates are already beginning to line up for Virginia’s 2021 statewide elections. Among Democrats, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (Richmond) and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (Prince William) are running for governor. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) has also said he intends to seek the top job.
And former governor Terry McAuliffe (D) has sent strong signals that he would like his old job back, raising significant amounts of money in preparation for a bid.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D), like all Virginia governors, is prohibited by the state’s constitution from seeking a second consecutive term.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Amanda Chase (Chesterfield) is running for governor. Former state senator Charles “Bill” Carrico, from the southwest part of the state, has said that he is considering a bid.
Jones is a partner at the law firm of Bischoff Martingayle in Norfolk, focusing on civil litigation. He earned an undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary and his law degree from the University of Virginia.
His father is Circuit Court Judge Jerrauld Corey Jones, who served in the House of Delegates from 1988 until 2002, when he became director of juvenile justice under then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D). His mother is Lyn Simmons, a Norfolk juvenile-justice judge and former prosecutor.
In this year’s General Assembly, Jones sponsored high-profile environmental legislation and worked with Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) to push for safeguards to keep the state’s largest utility, Dominion Energy, from passing excess costs along to consumers. That legislation failed, but the effort elevated Jones’s profile and showed his ability to work across the aisle on key issues.
He released a campaign kickoff video Monday in which he emphasizes that he has worked to expand access to Medicaid and pledges to work as attorney general to fight efforts to limit the Affordable Care Act. Jones said he already has more than $330,000 cash on hand for his campaign.
“It is time for a Virginia that embraces everyone, lifts everyone, no matter who you are, where you come from or what you look like,” Jones says in the video.
Earlier versions of this article misstated which governor appointed Jerrauld Corey Jones to be director of juvenile justice in Virginia. It was Mark R. Warner.
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.