Virginia Del. Jason Miyares seeks to become the state's first Latino attorney general – The Washington Post
Del. Jason S. Miyares is running for attorney general in Virginia, but he told a crowd in a Loudoun County ballroom recently his story really begins in Havana, when a “scared” 19-year-old girl boarded a flight to the United States “penniless and homeless.”
“My mother fled Cuba in October of 1965,” Miyares said. “And almost 50 years to the day she left she was able to go in the voting booth and get a ballot and vote for me to represent her in the oldest democracy in the Western hemisphere. . . . That’s what I call the American miracle.”
Miyares was referring to his mother voting during his successful run for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2015, but the story has become a cornerstone of his pitch to voters in 2021. He’s told it in an advertisement, interviews and campaign stops.
It’s also a succinct introduction for Miyares, a 45-year-old Republican from Virginia Beach, who has never run for statewide office before and could make history if he wins in November as the first Latino to serve as attorney general in Virginia.
Miyares has paired his uplifting personal story with a sharper-edged message that incumbent Mark R. Herring and other Democrats in Richmond have failed on crime, pointing to a two-decade-high spike in the murder rate. That trend has been mirrored in a number of other states across the country and overall crime is mostly down in Virginia.
“There’s been an upside-down mind-set at times in Richmond,” Miyares said in an interview. “I call it a criminal-first, victim-last mind-set. . . . Some policies I don’t think have made Virginians safer. They have made us less safe.”
Miyares cited a bill that died during a recent legislative session that would have given a judge or jury the discretion to reduce the charge of assault on a police officer from a felony to a misdemeanor and a push to end mandatory minimum sentences for certain offenses. Both efforts were championed by criminal justice reformers in Virginia.
On the campaign trail, Miyares has specifically attacked Herring for not doing more to stop the early release of a handful of violent felons by the state’s parole board and has criticized Herring’s endorsement of liberal Northern Virginia prosecutors, who Miyares said have been too soft on domestic violence offenders and child sex predators.
Herring said he has no control over the parole board’s decisions, a contention backed by a nonpartisan fact-checking site that labeled the attack by Miyares false.
Miyares said he is well-equipped to tackle public safety because he spent roughly three years as an assistant prosecutor in the Virginia Beach commonwealth attorney’s office a little over a decade ago. Miyares said he handled about 600 cases, including sexual assaults, violent offenses and drug cases.
Miyares said what has stuck with him are the victims. He recalled the ongoing anxiety of a young girl whose home was broken into and ransacked. The victim of another crime constantly checked doors at night to make sure they were locked.
“That gave me such a great sympathy for victims and what they go through,” Miyares said.
His interest in the law sprung from stories his mother told him of Cuba, where he said the rule of law was often a pipe dream.
Miyares said his uncle, Angel, opposed Fidel Castro and was arrested during the Bay of Pigs invasion, although his uncle did not participate in the military action.
Miyares said his mother recalled the terror of watching her brother pulled from their Havana home by security forces and later subjected to a mock execution. Miyares said the experience helped convince his mother to depart for the United States.
After her arrival, Miyares said, she married and had children, and his family eventually moved to Virginia Beach when he was in elementary school. Miyares said he was a teenager when his father left the family. Miyares went on to earn his college degree at James Madison University and law degree at the College of William & Mary.
Candidates for Va. attorney general sharpen attacks in what could be final debate
After his stint as a prosecutor, Miyares went to work as a political adviser for Republican Scott Rigell, who was campaigning for a Virginia Beach-area congressional seat that he would go on to win in 2010.
Rigell recalled during his stint in Congress that he made a number of decisions that were unpopular with fellow Republicans, including meeting with President Barack Obama on Air Force One and breaking with Grover Norquist, whose support for slashing taxes is sacrosanct in the party.
Rigell said Miyares backed those decisions.
“I think he’ll surprise people,” Rigell said. “I think a pragmatic, center-right candidate is what’s lost in our country right now. . . . The extremists are what have gripped our country, and that is not Jason Miyares.”
Rigell also gained notoriety for opposing Donald Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president in 2016, calling him a “con man” and a “bully.” Miyares was more circumspect in his take on the former president and decried the “coarse” nature of contemporary politics.
“There’s policies he’s supported that I agree with, but I can’t say I was a fan of his social media habits,” Miyares said of Trump. “I think Joe Biden won the election.”
Miyares won his own election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2015, winning in a landslide in a Virginia Beach district, running on transportation, education and job creation. He currently lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and three daughters.
Miyares, who is now in his third term, said he’s most proud of three pieces of legislation he’s carried. One provided free in-state college tuition for youth in foster care, another cut regulations that made it difficult for small businesses to open on-site child care for employees, and the third — a constitutional amendment — extended property tax relief to the spouses of permanently disabled veterans.
Herring has highlighted other aspects of Miyares’s record in the legislature. Miyares voted against expanding Medicaid in 2018 and has opposed new gun safety measures, such as universal background checks and a red-flag law that allows the temporary removal of firearms from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Herring also claims Miyares improperly took a series of votes that benefited a family real estate business that is a major source of Miyares’s income. Miyares’s campaign said Miyares was never advised by ethics counsel to recuse himself from any of the votes.
Quentin Kidd, director of Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership, said the attorney general’s race will probably come down to whether voters are more motivated to select a traditional tough-on-crime candidate like Miyares or someone who has pushed criminal justice reform like Herring.
“That’s where the fault line is,” Kidd said.
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