This past Saturday, I listed my 8 criteria for choosing the Democratic nominee in the 8th CD race. How do these criteria apply to specific candidates? I started with former Virginia Lt. Governor Don Beyer, continued with Del. Mark Sickles, and now turn to Del. Charniele Herring.
1. The next Representative from the 8th CD should be a strong, rock-solid progressive.
Charniele Herring has been in the House of Delegates for a relatively short time (since January 2009), so we have 4+ years of voting to look at. In that time, according to Project Vote Smart, Herring has had strong ratings from progressive and environmental interest groups (e.g., 100% from NARAL, 75% from Equality Virginia, 94% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters, and zero from the NRA). The reason Herring got 75% and not 100% from Equality Virginia is for her “no” vote on HB1617, which Equality Virginia says “requires public universities to fund and recognize student groups that choose to discriminate in their membership based on religious or political beliefs” and which “offers no protection for the students subject to discrimination.”). I’m not sure why she voted “no” on that one. She also voted for the infamous “Mark of the Beast” bill, for phone company deregulation, and for a bunch of “tough on crime” (translation: more focused on punishment than on rehabilitation and use of discretion) types of bills. Other than that, Charniele Herring has generally been a strong progressive. If you check YouTube, you’ll see Del. Herring standing up for immigrants, the homeless, women’s healthcare and reproductive rights. Also, as DPVA Chair, Del. Herring stumped across Virginia for the Democratic 2013 ticket. So, yes, I’d say she’s basically a strong progressive — give her an A-/B+ on this one.
2. I want to see a tenacious, indefatigable FIGHTER for progressive values.
From what I’ve observed, Del. Herring has been a fighter for the progressive values she believes in. I would expect her to carry this same spirit to Congress is she’s elected.
3. We need a Representative who will fight for the 8th CD.
I have no reason to expect that Charniele Herring wouldn’t do this. The only question is, how effective she’d be, but that’s also a question about all the candidates when you think about it…
4. We’re going to be losing some big-time seniority and need to build it back up.
Charniele Herring would be 45 years old if elected to Congress next November. That would give her decades to build up seniority in Congress.
5. We want, need, and deserve a Representative who has the highest ethical standards and who makes us proud every day.
To my knowledge, Charniele Herring has high ethical standards.
6. A superb, impressive track record of accomplishment over the years.
Certainly, Charniele Herring has come a long way in her life. Born in the Dominican Republic; living in a homeless shelter for six months when her mother lost her job, then going on to receive her B.A. in economics from George Mason University in 1993 and a J.D. from the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America in 1997; becoming (in 2009) the first African-American woman ever elected to represent Northern Virginia in the General Assembly; becoming (in December 2012) the first African American to be elected DPVA Chair. That’s an impressive record of accomplishment by any standard.
The only real question about Charniele Herring’s record, in my view, is her performance as DPVA Chair (note: Democrats won all three statewide offices in 2013, but wildly underperformed in the House of Delegates; I’ve heard some complaining on the latter score that Herring kept a lot of money for herself instead of giving more of it to House Democratic candidates). When I wrote my story on former DPVA Executive Director Lauren Harmon’s departure after just 11 months on the job, I was told by multiple sources that Herring wasn’t particularly “hands-on” or engaged/interested in the job, per se. I was also told by multiple sources that Herring appeared mostly interested in setting herself up to run for Lt. Governor in 2017. And I was told by multiple sources that Harmon was undermined by Charniele Herring’s Chief of Staff, Zachary Rickard, who supposedly also helped recruit Harmon in the first place from Ohio, where they both had served in the state Democratic Party. Finally, in recent days, I’ve heard that there’s chatter within DPVA that Herring should resign as Chair immediately, not wait for several weeks, given that she’s now a candidate for Congress in a crowded Democratic field and that it’s improper/unfair for her to remain as DPVA Chair. To date, she hasn’t agreed to those calls.
Notwithstanding the previous paragraph, I think it’s fair to say that overall, Charniele Herring has had a strong track record of accomplishment in her life.
7. Obviously, we want someone who will do a great job on “constituent services.”
I’m not really sure how to judge this one, except that I’ve never heard of any problems with Herring’s constituent service in her House of Delegates district. She certainly uses social media effectively, unlike certain competitors of hers (e.g., Mark Sickles, Don Beyer).
UPDATE: Since I posted this, I’ve heard a bit of grumbling that Del. Herring’s constituent services aren’t the greatest. Anyone in her district care to weigh in?
8. I want to see a “heavyweight” in this job — someone who is a serious policy wonk, someone who really loves diving into the weeds of legislation, someone who can go toe-to-toe with Republicans and Tea Partiers (and conservative and/or corporate Democrats for that matter) in the battle of ideas.
This is probably my biggest question about Charniele Herring – not whether she’s very smart, which she obviously is, but whether she’s really into policy in a “wonky” way. I also wonder whether Herring is more interested in/knowledgeable about state-level rather than federal-level policies and issues (note: I wonder this about numerous other candidates as well). I’d also say that when I interviewed her, I found her answers tended towards generalizations. When I pressed her for details, I tended to get boilerplate responses and generalities (e.g., we need to build the party — but HOW exactly?). I’m not sure what to make of that, except that she was almost certainly on a very tight “leash” from the McAuliffe campaign and probably felt she had almost no leeway to really speak her mind. Having said all that, there’s no doubt in my mind that Herring’s willing to go toe-to-toe with Republicans and Tea Partiers, which is great and also much needed these days!
Overall: I’d give Herring a fairly strong grade, somewhere in the “B” range. It will be interesting to hear her thoughts on national and international issues, and more generally her vision for the 8th CD Member of Congress.