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What Was Mark Herring Thinking?

In case you, or Mark Herring for that matter, somehow weren’t aware, 2017 is an election year.

You would think that Herring of all people, who inexplicably turned down a run for Governor to seek a long-shot reelection run as Attorney General, would know that 2017 is an election year. He’s basically been running for a second term as Attorney General for the last year and a half. [1]

So it’s beyond dumbfounding that this week the AP reported Mark Herring made a massive unforced political error, one that is surely going to haunt him this campaign season.

Virginia is facing a $1.5 (or $1.26) BILLION deficit. State agencies are facing across-the-board cuts — law enforcement agencies who financially depend on the state are looking at personnel shortages, public schools, public universities and colleges. At a minimum, pretty much everything the state’s money touches will see some sort of revenue reduction.

So what/why/how in the world could anyone in the Attorney General’s office, and especially Mark Herring, think it was a good idea or time to be giving out raises? Not just some raises, but 64 raises, averaging $7,000, with one lawyer receiving a $15,000 raise while another saw a 30 percent increase.

On top of the stupidity/shortsightedness of that, the source they used for the raises was the $100 million Medicaid settlement that former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office secured for the Commonwealth [2]. That money falls under civil forfeiture laws which require that the funds be used for law enforcement purposes, but cannot be used for salary or augmenting pay (which makes sense; we don’t want to encourage police to be seizing property if they’re able to use it to get themselves a raise). But that wouldn’t help the morale issues in the AG’s office so they looked around, trying to figure out how to be able to use the funds.

Enter the Obama administration’s Justice Department who provided their good friend Mark Herring with a step-by-step Powerpoint guide to getting around the federal regulations regarding civil forfeiture. With a little backslapping, the AG’s office could give out the raises they wanted, and no one’s the wiser.

Until AP got hold of the story [3].

…the Justice Department suggested a workaround in a PowerPoint presentation obtained from the office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring after the AP raised questions about significant pay raises for several of Herring’s employees at a time when state workers’ pay was stagnant elsewhere. Some staff attorneys’ salaries rose as much as $15,000 in a year — one had a 30-percent increase.

The mailings and ads almost write themselves:

‘While Public Schools Lose Funding, Mark Herring Makes It Rain’

‘Attorney General Largesse as Sheriff’s Deputies Are on Welfare’

‘Backroom Deals Help AG’s Office Break the Law’

And on, and on, and on.

John Adams is going to make significant political hay out of this, as he should. Mark Herring, whose reelection campaign was already an uphill battle, committed a massive political misstep that was clearly designed to never see the light of day.

When you combine the budget deficit, the cutting corners, the attempts at secrecy, then the volume and quantity of the raises, it adds up to exactly what Mark Herring’s campaign did not need.

With no legislative accomplishments to point to in the past three years (remember, any Herring legislative priorities were dead in the water with the General Assembly after he vacated Virginia law in 2013), Mark Herring needed everything to go right in 2017 to win reelection. Herring’s three years have brought two significant achievements: the reversal of one man-one woman marriage, and canceling conceal-carry reciprocity agreements with neighboring states. Of those achievements, the first was the second month of his term — a generation ago in politics — and the second was blown up a month later by Governor Terry McAuliffe’s deal with the General Assembly.

So with no record to point to, and now a brewing scandal that will play terribly with the voting public, Herring is finally attracting attention but for all the wrong reasons.

It won’t matter how much money Mark Herring has raised if these are the types of decisions he is signing off on.